Green Goddess

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The Green Goddess is the colloquial name for the Bedford RLHZ Self Propelled Pump, a fire engine used originally by the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), and latterly by the British Armed Forces. These green-painted vehicles were built between 1953 and 1956 for the Auxiliary Fire Service. The design was based on a Bedford RL series British military truck.

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Auxiliary Fire Service

The Auxiliary Fire Service was established as part of civil defence preparations after the Second World War, and subsequent events such as the Soviet Union detonating an atomic bomb made their presence as part of Britain's Civil Defence an important role supporting civilians. It was thought that a nuclear attack on Britain would cause a large number of fires, which would overwhelm the ordinary fire service, so a large stock of basic fire engines was ordered to form a reserve capacity. They were in continuous use by the AFS, until disbandment in 1968 by the Harold Wilson Government.

The Green Goddess machines were not primarily fire engines (AFS members referred to them as 'appliances'); they are more correctly titled "self propelled pumps", some two-wheel drive (2x4), and others in four-wheel drive (4x4) form. Their main role was to pump huge quantities of water, from lakes, rivers, canals and other sources, into cities hit by a nuclear attack. The machines could be used in a relay system over a number of miles, with Green Goddesses at regular intervals to boost the water pressure. Fire fighting was a secondary role.

Operational use

Prior to disbandment, the AFS used the 'Green Goddess' extensively in support of the local Fire Services throughout the UK. They provided additional water delivery and fire fighting capability at times when the regular Fire Brigades had a major incident to contain. The ability to relay large quantities of water over considerable distances was invaluable in some more remote locations, or where the incident required more water than local water systems could provide. Most UK Boroughs had an Auxiliary Fire Service detachment housed alongside the regular Brigade equipments.

After 1968, the vehicles were mothballed, but occasionally used by the Armed Forces to provide fire cover in a number of fire strikes, notably in 1977 and 2002 (see UK firefighter dispute 2002-2003). They were also deployed to pump water in floods and droughts. They were well maintained in store, and regularly road tested.

The role of Green Goddesses was superseded by new contingency arrangements. The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 gives Government the power to instruct Fire and Rescue Authorities to make their own vehicles available in the event of future industrial action. New Incident Response Units introduced after the September 11, 2001 attacks offer high power pumping ability among a range of other contingency functions.

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