High-tech Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4×4 heads for the hills

Fire Rescue Vehicle MacneilliesMajor incidents in one of Britain’s most ruggedly beautiful areas will now be managed from a very special 4×4 Mercedes-Benz vehicle.

Northumberland Fire & Rescue Service’s new Incident Support Unit is based on a 5.0-tonne Sprinter 519 CDI, which arrived via North-East Dealer Bell Truck and Van.

The Long-bodied, V6-engined van was converted for command and control operations by West Midlands specialist Macneillie, and is fitted with cutting-edge communications technology that can be used by up to five personnel.

Chief Fire Officer Alex Bennett said: “This custom-built vehicle will allow us to deliver our services in a more co-ordinated and professional manner and mean we are better able to protect our communities across the county at a time of increased risk from floods and other natural events. The Incident Support Unit represents a significant financial investment but given that we expect to run it for at least 10 years, I have no doubt that it will prove to be money very well spent.”

He continued: “Past experience has given us complete confidence in the Mercedes-Benz 4×4 chassis, which means we can operate anywhere across a county that includes some very challenging terrain.”

Northumberland Fire & Rescue Service also operates four other all-wheel drive Mercedes-Benz vans – three are assigned to its Swift Water Rescue teams and carry inflatable boats, while the fourth is a Specialist Rescue Unit and equipped with heavy-duty cutting gear, including shears and saws, as well as stabilisation tools.

Prior to entering service the new vehicle was presented at this year’s Ambition show at Olympia – where it was seen by Home Secretary Theresa May – and at the Emergency Fleet Exhibition in Telford.

A genuine, factory-built option, rather than an aftermarket conversion, the Sprinter 4×4 sits higher than its standard counterpart. It employs rear-wheel drive for road use, but all-wheel drive can be selected when venturing off road. Conventional 4×4 vehicles rely on mechanically operated differential locks to prevent spinning wheels and guarantee equal speed on all four wheels. The Sprinter 4×4, by contrast, uses a development of the Mercedes-Benz 4-ETS (Electronic Traction System), which is integrated with the Adaptive ESP® anti-skid technology to provide unrivalled traction management.

ICT equipment supplied by Excelerate Technology for installation in the air-conditioned Northumberland vehicle includes a roof-mounted, foldable satellite dish and a camera mounted on a retractable six-metre mast. Macneillie also fitted M1-compliant swivelling seats, a 10kVA generator which is accessed via the rear doors and housed behind a sound-proofed bulkhead, and stabiliser legs to ensure continuity of satellite signal during operations. An awning and external hatch through which a 40in screen can be viewed, means the area beside the vehicle can be used for meetings and briefings.

Northumberland Fire & Rescue Service Technical Officer Steve Kennedy said: “We considered a few chassis options but the 4×4 Mercedes-Benz Sprinter ticked all the boxes in terms of its size, off-road capability, and proven reliability and durability.

“The communications systems on this vehicle allow us to pass messages and stream live, real time data back to HQ without having to rely on the public network. We can also conduct video conferences, for example, which will assist in managing incidents efficiently and safely, and undertake comprehensive incident debriefs based on the passage of information and audits of all decisions made, which can only improve future performance.”

He added: “Bell Truck and Van was the prime contractor in this case and liaised with the other parties involved to ensure that the whole process went very smoothly. We maintain our Mercedes-Benz vehicles in-house and benefit from the Dealer’s excellent parts service.”