Monday, 3 December 2007
The cold war is over..... The green goddess is dead.
The cold war is over, well we all knew that but why am I saying that today.
As we speak in a yard in Staffordshire the end really has come for a cold war relic.
Going back as far as 1940 the UK was under serious aerial attack. Fire were everywhere and the fire services stretched. The situation was complicated since fire had traditionally been devolved to local councils each of which had their tastes and foibles, even hydrants and hoses might have different connection system between boroughs.
The solution was the formation of a National Fire Service with unified systems equipment and connections. On completion of hostilities the whole edifice was dismantled and all the equipment put into storage pending probable disposal.
Then in 1949 the iron curtain fell, the Russians had nuclear capability and back up the agenda came the notion of civil defence and a national fire service. Renamed the Auxiliary Fire Service it was reformed ready to fight the fire caused by nuclear attack.
Of course, a lot of the equipment was from the war years and had seen a lot of service. So a spec sheet was drawn up for a new Auxiliary Fire Service as part of a national Civil Defence Corps.
The backbone of the AFS would be the mobile fire column, a self contained self supporting entity that could advance from undamaged areas into devastated towns and cities extinguishing all as it went along.
The idea was that water would be pumped from rivers and lakes which might be some distance away to extinguish fires so a vast fleet of personnel carriers, hose layers, communications vehicles was ordered.
The central vehicle though was the self propelled pump, the green goddess.
Originally built on the 2 wheel drive Bedford S chassis from about 1955 these were built on the Bedford RL 4 ton 4 wheel drive truck by about a dozen coachbuilders. To appreciate how far ahead of the rest Bedford were in those days you really have to try the competition.
As an illustration trucks were limited back then to 20 mph, the green goddess fully laden easily tops 45, more than twice that.
Of course the whole idea was a joke and the H bomb made the idea of concerted fire fighting in the immediate post strike period improbable to be polite....
This being the UK of course the organisation carried on till 1968 when a cash strapped government called time on the Civil Defence and put everything into storage, in case it was ever needed.
Yet more time passed and in about 1973 the decision was made to sell the lot off.
This being Government this was a slow process and when the drought hit in 1975 they were suddenly in need of extra capacity to move water in bulk and realised they were sitting on the very kit they needed, all the old Civil Defence gear they had just decided to sell.
Came 1977 and the first national fire strike and a reversal of the original policy was on the cards.
This was only a partial reversal however. Many of 4 wheel drive Green goddesses and the bulk pumping hoses were retained and a quantity of the lighter 4 wheel drives. Everything else was to go.
It's a measure of the inertia that a full 25 years after the civil defence stood down, they were still closing stores and selling off gear!
By the mid 1990's all that remained was centralised in a store at Marchington in Staffordshire where, in an air of quiet efficiency around 1000 green goddess fire engines were held in storage together with a vast stock of spares and parts. At any time 40 vehicles were immediately available and the whole fleet had to be ready to go given 21 days notice.
You might have thought there would be not much call for a forty year old green fire engines when there were bang up to date red ones already out there, and you would be wrong.
You see the Sigmund pump fitted to the GG is one of the best ever for shifting water in bulk. When the centre of Chichester was threatened by flood water the 18 GG deployed could move 4 times the amount of water of a modern fire pump.
In fact for their original role they are still king. If your house was on fire send for a red engine, if the whole town was ablaze the green one would be far more use!
When fires threatened to engulf the moors in Yorkshire the modern fire engines had to stop 4 miles short, the GG crews simply engaged 4 wheel drive.
Then of course there was the millennium, come 2000 no one was sure what was going to happen, what would work and what would not. They knew though there were no computers to go wrong in a GG!
Finally 2002 and the fire fighters strike. There were still 1000 GG left but the military was a ghost of it's strength in 1977. Just 800 could be crewed and, despite claims to the contrary they gave a very good account of themselves.
A radical change of equipment fit was ordered and was slowly being introduced.
Then almost out of the blue on the 14 February 2005 it was announced the government would do a "market test" 40 were sent down for disposal.
In the feeding frenzy that followed over 7 thousand sterling a unit was generated. Someone in Whitehall saw pound signs and the whole bunch were dumped on the market at once.
The price plummeted and the sale stalled. Had they been sold at what the market would pay many more might have found new uses, but the heels were dug in and the money demanded.
I bought four for not a lot more than I would have paid for one of the first 40.
And now the inevitable is happening. The sad remnants, vehicles that have spent nearly 3 years in the open, are being cut up.
This summer the heart of England flooded, the very thing they needed was the green goddess fleet.
In fact 20 of their new owners volunteered to go and help, giving a pumping capacity of just under 24 million gallons of water a day. They were turned down, would not the government have looked fools. Having scraped them then needing them desperately.
So today the last of the thousand survivors of the thousands of Civil defence vehicles are being broken up and sold for scrap.
I for one feel a little bit sad.
There is a yahoo group for RL owners - seek it out.