Suffolk’s Unimogs save lives


Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service Unimogs: saving the lives of people and animals.

The Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service (FRS) rely on three specially adapted Unimogs to help save the lives of people and animals. Fleet and Equipment Manager for Suffolk FRS, Neil Elmy explains why the unrivalled machines do the job of several different vehicles rolled in to one.

Unimog does it all.

Suffolk FRS has relied on Unimogs for over 30 years. They currently have three 14-tonne gvw U423 Unimogs based at their Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft branches. The vehicles recently replaced their older models and whilst shopping around, the team realised nothing compared to these mighty machines, “When we considered replacement vehicles, there was nothing that offered the off-road capability and load handling that the Unimog could,” says Neil.

The all-terrain performance, agility and adaptability make them the perfect choice for the Suffolk FRS, who deal with large animal rescues and fight fires in remote locations (such as on heaths and in scrubland) on a regular basis.

Modified for maximum use.

Unimog ‘implement carrier’ models were chosen – all have the typical 4x4 chassis with single rear wheels, which follow the track created by the front wheels plus front, side and rear attachment points.

Suffolk FRS further modified their vehicles, adding demountable ‘pods’ on the back, one of which is a ‘firefighting’ pod and the other a ‘water rescue’ pod, each serving different purposes, to maximise their use.

Neil explains, “The vehicles are stood with the water rescue capabilities and then we change to the firefighting pods as and when we need them.”

The vehicles also have the capacity to tow rigid inflatable boats (RIBS) plus cranes for difficult animal rescues and other necessary devices including strops, harnesses and skid boards, which are stored in a secure locker.

The pods can be easily removed for a clear deck, should the Unimogs be required to transport vital equipment when assisting with bigger rescue missions, i.e. train or aircraft crashes in remote locations.

Making the most of the capacity.

Suffolk FRS has also gone a step further this year, enhancing their vehicles with the introduction of bulk foam.

“We had a single designated vehicle to carry the foam but the vehicle didn’t get that much use, so we decided to use the Unimog with the crane instead. We can now widely distribute the foam amongst the service and still use the vehicle,” enthuses Neil.

Rescuing animals from tricky spots.

The Unimogs really showcase their skills when dealing with complex animal rescues. As Neil puts it, they deal with “all manner of things, any animal which can’t release itself or the owners can’t release it – we’re called out.”

The most common animals in need of help are cows and horses, usually stranded in flooded ditches and rivers. This can prove tricky for the firefighters as the terrain is difficult and the animals often frightened. Neil describes the challenges, “It’s technical, the firefighters have to train hard for it because they have to understand animal behaviour too – when horses and cows are suspended on a crane, they tend to kick!”

Suffolk FRS Driver Training Manager, Mark Chambers, has to prepare his team for the hazards on and off the road. “We train our Unimog drivers in off-road technique and self-recovery before they go ‘on the run’.  This instils confidence and belief in the vehicle in a controlled environment,” he says.

Battling the beast.

Neil recalls another time the Unimogs were hailed heroes. The ‘Beast from the East’ plagued the UK for over a week in early 2018. Roads were in chaos and emergency services battled to reach those in crisis.

Step up Unimogs. The team quickly deployed their unstoppable vehicles, clearing the snow and ice. “Our primary crew used the Unimogs to help ambulances and other emergency vehicles through the snow. We also cleared the way to gain access to remote villages. They really proved their worth during this time.”

“Having personally experienced the Unimogs off road in quite extreme conditions, they are impressive.”

– Mark Chambers, Suffolk FRS Driver Training Manager

In safe hands.

The Unimogs are pushed to their potential, which means regular servicing and maintenance is a must. Suffolk FRS trusts Unimog Dealer, Arthur Ibbett in Cambridgeshire, to take care of its valuable fleet. “Our Unimog dealer Arthur Ibbett does a lot of our scheduled repairs on our vehicles and they are really supportive, we really recommend them,” adds Neil.

Got a Unimog?

Tell us about your mighty Unimog machine – does it undertake any special recovery missions? Share all the details with your fellow RoadStars in the comment section below.

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