Universal tractor units deliver self-contained units to the field for support and logistic services and quickly return to service for the next emergency— the next delivery.

West Midlands, UK Fire Service leads the field in adoption of the industrial concept of using prime movers (tradors) to haul self-contained service units to emergency sites. Their hazardous-materials control unit is shown mounted and ready for response.

(All photos courtesy of West Midlands Fire Service.)

THE FIRE SERVICE in the United Kingdom and the rest of the world is increasingly being called on to carry out more elaborate and dangerous tasks in addition to its primary role in fire extinguishment. With an increasing demand on resources comes the need for greater efficiency. To meet this need, the West Midlands Fire Service in Queensway, Birmingham, England introduced a system of specialized, demountable units called pods.

West Midlands, one of the largest metropolitan brigades in England, serves approximately three million people in an area of more than 250,000 acres. Approximately 2,095 firefighters at 41 fire stations provide continuous coverage with a four-watch system.

The brigade found that its resources were continually overextended in a system in which personnel and apparatus were designated for specific tasks— a heavy-rescue company being called to respond to a road accident, for example. Thus it introduced demountable units that can be dispatched to locations as needed by responders.

Some of West Midlands' versatile, portable, self-contained service pods. The foam unit is delivered to the emergency scene.Others—salvage unit.logistics support.the incident command unit are easily maintained in readiness at various sites throughout the district.


Each designated location, in addition to its usual range of apparatus, received a number of prime movers. The prime mover is a vehicle adapted to accommodate any one of a set of pods. It is equipped with a multilift recovery system—a hydraulic arm lifts a pod onto the back of die mover and locks it in place. West Midlands currently has nine specialized pods:

Command unit. This unit is dispatched automatically by Fire Control to any incident involving five or more pumping apparatus. It provides a central control point for gathering, assessing, and distributing information. The unit’s front half houses the communications network, which includes four work stations, VHF, UHF, field telephones, cellular radiophones, microcomputer, and facsimile machine.

The rear section serves as a conference center for senior officers and a display area for graphs, maps, and so on. Electrical power comes from 12-volt and 24volt battery installations kept charged by a portable 24-volt generator carried in an outside locker.

Foam distribution unit. This provides backup for the foam-making equipment that all field units carry. A 2,700-liter tank divided into three separate compartments, each holding 900 liters of foam, is mounted centrally on the multilift chassis. An air-cooled, gasoline-driven pump mounted in the rear pump bay supplies foam concentrate to the fireground. While this unit is in operation, it can be refilled using bulk foam tankers or connected to two or more such units to complete a continuing supply of foam concentrate.

Damage control and incident support. These additions enable both salvage and additional firefighting equipment to be delivered to the scene quickly and efficiently. Equipment stored includes ground monitors, extra lighting equipment, and salvage sheets that come in handy particularly at larger incidents.

Hazardous substance unit. This unit carries a range of specialized equipment and serves as a decontamination unit. It opens upward to provide a cover for decontaminated personnel to undress and enter a walk-through shower. After showering, personnel enter a dressing area, dress, proceed into a documentation and equipment room, and exit the unit. So far, the unit has been sent to manage leaks from the smallest drum to major chemical spills and gas leaks.

Major rescue unit. This unit supplies larger and more varied types of rescue equipment than the pump rescue ladders. It carries its own power source in the form of two 110-volt generators for power tools as well as hydraulic gear for severe incidents. A new addition is a thermic cutting rod that works off oxygen cylinders. The unit has responded to major highway accidents, people trapped in machinery, high-rise or steep-sided slope rescues, as well as incidents involving tunnels, trenches, and collapsed structures.

Plant and general-purpose bodies. These units transport equipment in both emergency and nonemergency situations. The plant body hits a mounted 24volt winch and anchorage points, making it ideal for loading and carrying light vehicles. The general-purpose body has double drop panels on the side and rear for transporting equipment.

Education/publicity unit. This unit helps educate the public about the fire service’s needs, with a major emphasis on fire prevention and safety.


The prime movers drastically reduced the vehicle service and upkeep of the less often used apparatus such as rescue, foam, and salvage vehicles. They also reduced manpower: Only two people are needed to deliver and set up each demountable unit.

We are also considering two additional pods:

Breathing apparatus support units. These units will incorporate facilities for breathing apparatus main control, spare apparatus, and chemical protective suits, cleaning, and service facilities.

Standby generator unit. With more sophisticated computer equipment in fire stations, alternative power in the event of a main power failure is imperative. Thus a standby generator that fits onto a portable mover is ideal for transporting to any location.

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