New machine to help fire services tackle moorland fires

Two United Utilities’ employees have worked together to create a new machine that will assist fire services tackling moorland fires in the region.

Andrew Ryding and Dan Fowler both saw the devastation caused by the blazes on Darwen Moor and Winter Hill first hand as they helped the fire services with their efforts. 

After those fires, they decided they wanted to use their knowledge of the moorland, and in Dan’s case agriculture, to come up with a machine that could cope with the terrain and help tackle fires. 

Dan Fowler, Land Agent at United Utilities, said: “The moorland environment poses unique challenges for fire-fighting. It is often far from water sources, main roads and the delicate peaty soils do not support heavy machinery. In 2018, during the Winter Hill fire, we first used a number of 2500 gallon slurry tankers behind tractors and 1,000 litre containers. But the tankers are heavy and can easily damage access tracks and jetted the water out uncontrolled, while the containers only had a limited capacity and need taking up and down the hill constantly to be re-filled from a standpipe.

“I thought we needed something nimble, small but able to carry more water than before.”

So, after discussing it with their bosses and the fire service, the pair got to work designing the perfect bit of kit. 

With input from PRIMEX, a local farm machinery manufacturer based at Garstang, the unit has loosely been based on an agricultural slurry tanker. The new machine is fitted with a special manifold and pressure release valves to allow up to six 150m hoses operating at one time.

Its double wheels mean it can be towed safely over soft land using a tractor. It’s easy to fill and at 5,455 litres (1,200 gallons), its capacity is more than five times that of a typical fire engine.

Working in conjunction with both Greater Manchester and Lancashire Fire and Rescue and Services the machine has been put through its paces at a farm near Hoddlesden and will be available for use by either United Utilities or the fire services whenever it’s needed. 

Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) Station Manager Ady Taylor, who is the wildfire lead with GMFRS said: “Moorland fires take up a huge amount of time and resources for our crews and have a devastating impact on the environment. These tankers are part of our continued investment in equipment to enhance our response to wildfires and to ensure we are prepared as the weather gets warmer”

“I want to remind people that whilst we can go out and enjoy the countryside, please take care and never be tempted to light barbecues or a fire of any kind on the moors”.

Rob Harvey, Station manager, NFCC Wildfire Tactical Advisor and Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service Wildfire Lead trainer" The provision of a vehicle of this type is invaluable to support LFRS in wildfire response, one of the biggest issues we face is water supplies on the moorland as Wildfires naturally occur during the drier seasons. By UU supporting our operational response, providing assets such as the Moorland fire tanker will ensure that we are better prepared for climate change where we are seeing an increase in the number and severity of wildfires. It also allows LFRS to provide an effective response by maintaining water supplies to our Hagglunds and Polaris vehicles that are operating on the fire-front and not having to return from the upland areas to replenish their water tanks which can slow the progress of firefighting".

It comes as United Utilities is reminding visitors to its sites ahead of Easter that lighting any fires or BBQs is strictly prohibited. 

Andrew Ryding, Catchment Controller for United Utilities, said: “We are at the beginning of a critical time for our upland catchment areas, for both breeding wildlife and the vegetation as it emerges from winter. As often happens, we are also entering into the ‘High Risk’ wild fire period, as lying dead vegetation dries out, and the weather becomes warmer and dryer.

“Whilst we welcome visitors to our catchment land to enjoy the beauty and tranquillity of what is on offer, we must reiterate that protecting our assets is crucial. We would ask visitors to help us by not having BBQs, not camping or lighting fires of any kind and disposing of smoking material responsibly. We would also remind anyone who may spot a fire on the moors, to call 999 and ask for the Fire Service immediately.”