Fired up about
fire and ice.

Unimog fire-fighting vehicle in Ennepetal is also used for clearing snow.

Opposites are said to attract each other. The Unimog of the fire brigade in Ennepetal, near Wuppertal, fights forest fires in summer and snow masses in winter. That's child's play for the flexible all-rounder that joined the team of fire fighters, led by technical manager Björn Windhövel, in September 2020.

Fast and sprightly.

The town of Ennepetal with its 30,000 inhabitants is situated on the south-eastern edge of the Ruhr region; 58% of its territory is wooded. The new water tender vehicle based on the Unimog U 5023 is stationed in the district of Rüggeberg in a hilly wooded region. Here there are many isolated farms or small settlements, many of which can only be reached via narrow tracks often bordered with cattle fences. Water is provided via wells which are up to 70 m deep and there are hardly any hydrants. So the essential aim in the event of a fire is to reach the scene of the fire with about 3,000 litres of water so as to gain enough time until another source of water can be organised. The Unimog makes that possible.

Some sceptics were amazed.

Björn Windhövel, technical head, Ennepetal fire brigade

The Unimog always finds a way.

Making progress in the wooded parts of Ennepetal is a particular challenge. The roadways are mostly rough forest tracks. Due to a lot of logging in the wake of wood-destroying insects, and also intensive use for the transportation of tree trunks, many of these so-called "skid trails" have been badly damaged. "The only thing that can get through is the Unimog," says Björn Windhövel.

In order that the team could be prepared in the case of an extreme emergency, they carried out intensive practice runs with the new Unimog on a particularly tricky slope. For fire officer Björn Windhövel, giving intensive training to drivers and machinists was extremely important. The focus is on operating the Unimog vehicle's tyre pressure control system: "Some sceptics were amazed at what a difference a few bars less could make to the MPT deep-treaded tyres. The area of tyre on the ground is almost doubled. More cleats press into the forest floor and the traction increases," the expert explains.

Ready when the winter wonderland gets dangerous.

The Unimog U 5023 was given its "baptism of snow" in February 2021 when snow storms swept through North Rhine-Westphalia. Equipped with a 2.80 m KL-V 32 V-type snowplough from Aebi-Schmidt, the Unimog cleared not only snow but also mud and branches out of the way – after heavy precipitation, the rivers in the region often overflow their banks and can do a great deal of damage. It's important to be at hand promptly; because: "How can you reach a settlement if the only access road is blocked?" Björn Windhövel explains the problem. "The municipal works depot doesn't always have the capacity to clear tracks quickly when that amount of damage has to be dealt with."

"In February we had a bitter east wind and accordingly heavy snowfall, and that was its first major operation. The Unimog always drove ahead and cleared a path through the snow drifts for the rescue vehicles," says Björn Windhövel. The attached V-shaped snowplough from Aebi-Schmidt is ideal for the fire brigade's purposes. The two blades can be positioned separately using hydraulics. Thanks to its wedge shape, obstacles like banks of snow can be overcome easily. If used on one side, the material to be cleared is then swept to the right or the left. The V-shaped blades make it easy to sweep debris together.

The Unimog U 5023 is equipped with a dual-circuit hydraulic system for operating front-mounted equipment and also to power the HPC winch. The snowplough can be hooked into the pockets of the mounting plate with a minimum of effort and time.

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Everything on board.

Ennepetal voluntary fire brigade with 150 volunteers and 50 employees takes care of many things. One focus is on fire fighting and technical assistance for industrial works, mainly in the metal-working sector. A few small traditional companies are remote and hard to reach in the valley of the Ennepe river. To support the technical assistance, the Unimog frame is equipped with an HPC winch with 5 tonnes of pulling power at the front and 10 tonnes at the rear. In addition to the usual forest-fire equipment, the implement space accommodates three more implements such as chain hoists and a rod lifter.

Also, water rescue operations around the three dams near the edge of the town and two rivers occur every so often. The Unimog is equipped for that too. With its fording capability up to 1200 mm, the all-rounder is ideally equipped to transport boats and for water rescue missions. Water rescue suits are stowed in the roof box and, if necessary, the rescue crew can put them on on the roof of the vehicle.

Planned through and through.

Whether winter or summer, the Unimog water tender is a highly mobile unit right at the forefront fighting fires. Additional heat protection near the chassis frame ensures that the system, for example the compressed air system, continues to function. In the hot part of the year, the Special Truck can be used to fight fires in vegetation using a spray beam and a size C outlet to distribute the extinguishing agent. On the right and left in the rear equipment space there are size D hoses ready to fight fires. The system also works on a pump-and-roll principle. The aim is to enable a maximum possible effect with as little water as possible.

The project was implemented together with Unimog general agency:
RKF-Bleses GmbH

Robust in action.

The Unimog is also designed so that it suffers as little damage as possible in its working surroundings. The protective frame all around the driver's cab of the all-rounder is based on a design that is already in use in Spain. Unimog vehicles which are used there to fight forest fires have similar equipment. It largely prevents damage to the cab, the headlamps or other important components from scratchy branches and twigs. The robust Naviton coating on the cab and the body provides additional protection from paintwork damage.

Ready for the future.

A tailor-made overall concept: Björn Windhövel worked together with the firefighting specialist of the Unimog general distributor RKF-Bleses, Andreas Beckschulze, and Thorsten Schlingmann of Schlingmann GmbH, Dissen, a manufacturer of fire engine bodies, to adapt Ennepetal fire brigade's Unimog fire engine. They received additional support from Michel Dicke of Mercedes-Benz in Stuttgart. "We put our heads together for hours and hours to design this vehicle. We are now all very happy with the result," says Björn Windhövel, summing up. His fire brigade will also be prepared for any operation in the future – whether it's fire or ice.

Text: based on Gerhard Kortenbruck

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