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Rapid response: How the commercial vehicle industry keeps the emergency services moving

15 September 2021 #Features & Interviews #TNB News

For many years the commercial vehicle industry has played a key role in keeping ambulance, fire and other emergency response services supplied with the most sophisticated and up-to-date trucks and vans.

Recent months have seen a series of new launches in this sector including a new dual-crewed lightweight 3.5 tonne ambulance from the alliance of Ford and specialist vehicle makers Venari as part of their “Project Siren”.

The ambulance, based on a Transit chassis-cab, is packaged to retain a weight limit under 3.5 tonnes, enabling NHS ambulance drivers and paramedics to drive the vehicle on a standard UK driving license.

Close collaboration with the Ford Pro Special Vehicles team has delivered weight reductions by using a “mix and match” approach to existing Transit parts.

These include a thinner, lightweight windscreen – optional on other Transit models – alloy wheels in place of steel as well as optimised fuel reservoir and fluid tank sizes.

Extensive use of composite materials in place of existing industry-standard ply designs has cut weight significantly, as has bespoke integration of internal features such as lockers built into the structure of the van.

Advanced digital connectivity also enables paramedics to monitor the onboard equipment and stock levels, from boxes of plasters and gloves, to stretchers and defibrillators.

Paul Baynes, marketing and sales manager, Special Vehicle Solutions, Ford of Europe said: “This project has grown from design to a finished vehicle in 12 months.

“Ford has a long history in building ambulances and as we enter our most exciting stage in the history of Ford vehicle conversions, this is a project we’re immensely proud of. This vehicle sets out to make life easier for those busy saving other’s lives.”

Meanwhile, emergency service vehicle specialist, VCS, has unveiled an MAN TGE-based concept for ambulance, police, fire and search & rescue services based on a new Ultra Low Floor Architecture (ULFA) platform developed by sister company, Promech Technologies.

VCS’s use of the TGE and ULFA combination has resulted in available gross vehicle weights of 3.5, 4.0, 4.25, 4.5, and 5.0 tonnes for the vans.

According to VCS, the low floor gives the firm the ability to develop a wider range of configurations to the emergency services, as it can increase interior space of the box body without compromising the overall height of the vehicle and deliver a lower centre of gravity overall.

Vehicles using the mix of ULFA and TGE architecture will be able to carry exceptionally heavy loads, opening up possibilities to develop specialist care ambulances and a wider range of armoured policing vehicles.

Designed, developed and produced at VCS’s facilities in Bolton and Bradford, a new ambulance using the low floor platform will be unveiled later this year, in partnership with a major regional service.

By using the ULFA platform, VCS has already been able to introduce Europe’s first 5.0T front-wheel drive, single rear wheel modular ambulance, which is designed specifically for St John Ambulance as a bariatric ambulance.

Rob Macintosh, National Fleet Manager at St John Ambulance said “The ambulance market has been looking for a five-tonne alternative to a custom-built box body without tail lift entry for a long time. I’m delighted that our partnership with VCS and MAN has found the solution.

“The new ambulance’s low floor entrance, single rear wheel and box body is truly market-leading in the five-tonne C1 vehicle category and opens up future potential on so many levels.”

In the larger commercial vehicle market, Volvo has now made its new FM and FMX units, launched in 2020, available for use as fire service vehicles with a crew cab for up to nine people.

The cabs, available in 4×2 and 4×4 axle configurations and with Volvo D11 or D13 engines, come with the EN 1846 safety standard for firefighting and rescue service vehicles.

Cabs come with large windows, a low door line, large rear-view mirrors and the option of up to eight cameras, while the Volvo Dynamic Steering system, available as an option, makes manoeuvring easier.

They include a newly developed anti-slip illuminated step and clearly marked orange grab handle, which is easy to spot in a variety of conditions.

The cab interiors offer plenty of storage compartments for helmets, gloves and other necessary equipment, and there are easily accessible connection points for electrical cables and pneumatic hoses.

Lars Franck, Product Manager Special Vehicle Offering at Volvo Trucks said: “We can now offer a very modern and comprehensive range of heavy-duty trucks on the market for fire services.

“The new variants of the Volvo FM and Volvo FMX are designed to provide members of the emergency services with a crew cab environment of world-class standard.

“We see ourselves as the bodybuilders’ best friend. Our new crew cabs allow them a faster delivery of vehicles to their customers.”

Over the past few months Avon Fire & Rescue has been operating a unique road-to-rail truck, provided by Network Rail, to give emergency services a better chance of saving lives when responding to incidents in the Severn Tunnel.

The 7.25 tonne Mitsubishi Canter can travel by road before switching to rail in three minutes and can then travel on the railway at speeds of up to 20 mph, enabling firefighter and ambulance crews to reach emergencies faster.

It is stationed at Avon Fire & Rescue’s Technical Centre in Avonmouth while its Welsh ‘twin’ is housed at the Maindee fire station in Newport, allowing faster response times from both sides of the tunnel.

Network Rail has been working on the design with both fire services, G.O.S Tool & Engineering, Welsh Ambulance Service Trust and South Western Ambulance Service NHS Foundation Trust (SWASFT), to ensure the vehicle provides the quickest response times possible while carrying life-saving equipment including breathing apparatus.

Robyn MacNamara, Network Rail’s Project Manager, said: “The Severn Tunnel is over four miles long so should an emergency incident occur, quick access for emergency services is vital.

“That is why we have developed this bespoke vehicle which has dedicated provisions for both firefighters and ambulance crews onboard.”

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