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Suffolk’s fire service trialling cutting-edge firefighting equipment

PUBLISHED: 19:49 15 December 2016 | UPDATED: 19:49 15 December 2016

SFRS trialling new Cobra cutting gear and battery operated rescue equipment at an evaluation day at their Wattisham training ground

SFRS trialling new Cobra cutting gear and battery operated rescue equipment at an evaluation day at their Wattisham training ground


Despite being one of the “smallest and leanest” fire services in the country, firefighters in Suffolk are punching well above their weight when it comes to embracing new ideas and technology.

Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service has just taken delivery of “next generation kit” which is currently only used by a handful of other services in the UK.

This includes three new fire engines, fitted with specialist Cobra firefighting equipment and Battery Operated Rescue Equipment (BRE), which cost around £240,000 each.

Next year will see the introduction of three new command support vehicles with wifi, and crews will be kitted out with new uniform from next April.

Talks are also underway to invest in a multi-agency drone that could be used by partner organisations, including the fire service.

Suffolk has been involved in a number of national initiatives to keep the service at the forefront of new developments in firefighting practises and equipment.

According to Dave Collins, Area Commander in charge of Support Services, the investment in cutting-edge equipment is all aimed at improving firefighter safety and making the service more effective when dealing with emergencies.

Cobra uses a mixture of water and a cutting agent ejected at high pressure through a special nozzle on a lance to cut through building materials. The equipment was trialled at an evaluation day at SFRS’s Wattisham training ground on Wednesday. The three appliances fitted with BRE and Cobra will go online at fire stations in Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Lowestoft in the new year. If the trial proves successful, the next eight new fire engines in Suffolk could be fitted with the technology.

Mr Collins said: “SFRS has just taken delivery of new fire engines each with Cobra and BRE, keeping the service up to date with the latest developments in operational technology.

“We are committed to making sure our firefighters are as safe as they can possibly be.

“Cobra enables us to safely fight a compartment fire from outside the building; it brings the temperature down and improves firefighter safety.

“This equipment is at the cutting edge of what’s available, which is a very positive position for us to be in.

“In terms of firefighting and road traffic collisions (RTCs), it will give us the technology to make a real difference to the work we do.”

Up until now, rescue equipment has been linked to a generator, but the battery powered alternative will be charged up on the appliance and will last for up to two hours.

Mr Collins continued: “BRE will have multiple benefits. Some of our hand-tools are already battery operated but it has taken a long time to come up with the technology to get batteries that are robust and powerful enough to do the job with most of our rescue equipment.”

In addition, work is underway to replace the three command support vehicles (CSV) currently in use in Suffolk. The new units will have increased IT capacity and will be compliant with the Joint Emergency Service Interoperability Programme (JESIP) – established in 2012 to address the recommendations and findings from a number of major incident reports. The CSVs are expected to be delivered towards the end of 2017.

SFRS is also part of a personal protective equipment (PPE) collaboration involving 20 other fire and rescue services across the UK, to trial the latest kit. Although Suffolk’s PPE contract still has two years to run, participation in the project will put the service in a strong position when the contract is renewed. Suffolk firefighters have taken part in trials at the Fire Service College in Gloucestershire.

Mr Collins said the new PPE was likely to offer a “layered approach” with each layer specific to the protection required, such as lightweight and robust for RTCs, and heavy duty for structural firefighting.

Matthew Hicks, Suffolk Country Council’s cabinet member for public protection said: “Suffolk Fire Service has a track record of innovation and improvement. The teams working on these projects are focussed on improving fire fighter safety and the service they provide to the communities of Suffolk, which is excellent”

Potential use of drones by the fire service

The resilience manager for SFRS is currently leading a multi-agency group looking at the provision of a multi-agency drone. This work is at an early stage and will look to identify the benefits of drone use with various partner organisations. The project will be joint-funded and will provide height access, thermal imaging, enable searches and assessment, again focusing of emergency service personnel safety and improving the way the service works at emergency incidents

Mr Collins said: “The group is tapping into the research and development nationally on this.

“A drone would have many benefits to the fire service. If you are searching for something or someone, the drone can carry thermal imaging equipment.

“You can put a drone into an area where it’s unsafe and we can use it to relay footage to command centres.”

The project group will bring their recommendations in spring of 2017.

What’s new at a glance

• Three new fire engines fitted with Cobra and Battery Operated Rescue Equipment

• New firefighter uniforms in April 2017

• Three new command support vehicles with wifi by the end of 2017

• Participation in personal protective equipment trials

• Use of drones

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