Simon Rowley: Fire Aid International

23 October 2010

In March 2009 after Steve spoke to his father for the first time about the expedition there was one man Garth Moore recommended Steve speak to first, Simon Rowley.

This has proved to be excellent advice on a countless number of occasions as Simon and his company Fire Aid International have proved invaluable to the expedition on so many levels.

Simon has devoted so much time, effort, advice, expertise and materials to the expedition and has also used his national and international contacts to assist FTFE with great affect.

To quote expedition leader Steve Moore, “Simon is a man that has been fundamental in making the expedition possible and without him it simply would not have happened. Of course this was never in doubt as frustratingly for me, my father has never been wrong!”.

This is a fascinating account in Simon’s own words of his memories of Garth Moore and how he has helped FTFE including his pivotal role in the search for “Martha” and initial “adaption” for the expedition. Simon Rowley has also kindly taken and supplied all the photographs shown.

I would have met Garth in the early 1970s on a fire ground somewhere in the Wimborne area. I cannot recall the exact date or location but, as agarth heath fire freelance press photographer, I started taking incident pictures for the local media in 1965 and I covered much of Dorset, Hampshire and southern Wiltshire supplying images to the newspapers and television. I would have been on many incidents that B19 Wimborne attended so would have seen Garth on lots of these calls. Once he had been promoted, he was of great help to me at shouts and was always very friendly and co-operative. Quite often we used to talk about the fire brigade and its strengths and weaknesses and I also remember on occasions visiting Garth at home or at his office at Pamphill.

We were both in the thick of the action in the long hot summer of 1976 and were together at many huge heathland and forest fires including one that threatened to engulf the petrol dump at West Moors. We would also almost certainly both have been at the fire that forced the evacuation of all the patients from St Leonards Hospital when flames swept through several plantations between Matchams and St Leonards on a Sunday afternoon in August 1976. I remember that one very well because I was posted as ‘missing’ in the centre of the fire! I’ve always endeavoured to get in very close to the firefighting. Then in May 1982 there were some more massive heathland fires including one at Lower Row in Holt where Garth and myself nearly got cut off by the advancing flames. I took this black and white photo of Garth watching the flames and it’s the one in a frame that I took to the FTFE departure at Greenwich.

marthaI was very sorry to hear that Garth had decided to retire from the fire brigade earlier that he could have done but his 33 years of service were a credit to him and his retirement was a loss to the Dorset Fire Brigade.

The first I heard of FTFE was when I was contacted by Steve in June 2009 on the advice of Garth and I was very impressed by Steve’s total commitment to the cause and the charities and also his overwhelming enthusiasm about the project even though it probably seemed to me at the time (and still probably does), to be completely manic but well worth an attempt. I was very sad to hear that Garth was so unwell and I told Steve that I would try to come up with some ideas about a fire appliance so that the initial preparations could get under way. The first thought was to try and locate a fire appliance that had served at Wimborne during Garth’s time there but the Bedfords had been scrapped and the Volvos had gone for reuse in Ireland or elsewhere overseas. I also thought that a 4×2 vehicle was not the best option due to the route that was being planned and it would be far better to take an all-wheel drive fire appliance.

Steve e-mailed me a picture of a Defence Fire Service Range Rover 6×4 rapid intervention fire engine that was for sale but I told him that, with the rough conditionsheath fire and martha that would be encountered and the lack of available stowage space, it would be completely unsuitable. Over the next few weeks I tried to see what was available in the way of a compact 4×4 fire engine that was at a reasonable price. In contrast to many other countries, the British fire service is not a great user of 4×4 fire trucks so finding a suitable one was likely to be very difficult. There were lots of 4x2s but no 4x4s but then I had a stroke of luck. I realised that the Mercedes 1124AF (L343 CEL) that was on the run at Christchurch with the role of a heathland firefighting appliance, was going to be replaced by the Dorset Fire and Rescue Service in the very foreseeable future by a new vehicle so it would be coming up for disposal.

martha heath fireI had taken photographs of the Mercedes when it was first delivered to Dorset in 1994, one is shown above, and I had seen it on a number of fire calls during its service in the two photos shown here so I was pretty certain that it was in excellent condition and I thought that it would be an ideal fire engine for the expedition. I made a few inquiries and found out that L343 CEL would be up for disposal in early 2010 . There are several ways in which fire and rescue services dispose of their redundant fire appliances and Dorset uses several ways itself including auctions and sealed bids but, naturally, these methods do not, by any means, guarantee that you will secure the vehicle. I therefore thought that a direct approach by Steve to the brigade’s Chief Fire Officer might be very beneficial and that proved to be the case and the rest is history.

As we all know, Steve’s very personable demeanour and his infectious enthusiasm works wonders and his personality certainly proved invaluable on this occasion and once all the arrangements were in place for the handover (see photograph below)consideration was needed to work out the best way in which the appliance could be made ‘fit for purpose’. I have to admit that I got a fair bit of flack from the HCB-Angus archivist who was adamant that the appliance should have been saved for preservation as it was the last one that the company made and he was pretty convinced that it was a hare- brained idea and that the Mercedes would depart these shores never to be seen in England again. I have tried to dissuade him from those negative vibes and, as the stages are conquered, he is warming tosteve the idea of the HCB-Angus name being seen throughout the world. It’s a pity that they no longer exist as the advertising potential would be enormous as I am sure that Mercedes have already realised.

The requirement for all crew members to have a heavy vehicle licence so that they could drive the Mercedes was never likely toDorset Mercedes tank & pump removal 06 be viable as it was just not practicable. So it was absolutely necessary to reduce the Mercedes’ weight to under ‘heavy vehicle’ size and to achieve this the 200-gallon water tank and the 500 gallon-a minute Godiva pump would have to be removed. Using a Sanderson Teleporter, my son Chris Rowley of Fire-Aid International & ProFire (UK) and Keith Allgood of Wessex Fire and Rescue, pulled and pushed and, after a few complications and many words and phrases that cannot be repeated, out came the pump followed by the tank that, on removal, revealed the words ‘shut that door’ that was the late camp comedian Larry Grayson’s catch-phrase and was highly appropriate as the Mercedes was the last fire engine out of HCB-Angus before the door was shut for the last time. Pictures of the pump and tank removal are shown here.

Dorset Mercedes tank & pump removal 17

Having delivered the Mercedes to Wimborne, that completed my direct involvement with the project although Steve had mentioned that, in order to comply with Guinness Book of Records rules, the vehicle still needed a pump to enable it to remain as a ‘fire engine’. There was of course the need to keep the weight down and it was Keith Allgood of Wessex Fire and Rescue who suggested that a stirrup pump could be carried. In this way, as there was nothing to insist that the pump had to be a fixed installation, the Mercedes could still be considered as an operational fire engine and the small light stirrup pump fulfilled the requirement. I had one in stock so it’s on a semi-permanent loan to FTFE.

Although my ‘hands-on’ involvement with FTFE has diminished considerably, I have still been able to contribute through my pressFollow That Fire Engine Wimborne 02 contacts. I have managed to get some publicity in a few local newspapers and Meridian Television agreed to cover the arrival of Martha at Wimborne Fire Station although unfortunately their cameraman’s three hours of footage and the interviews with Steve and other crew members, resulted in just a couple of minutes of screen-time. A couple of the photos are shown here. However I was pleased that my own video footage of the departure of FTFE from Greenwich was shown a number of times on news bulletins. I am sure that, as the expedition progresses, I will be able to get more local coverage. I also posted a picture of the departure on the Fire Engine Photos website and this has resulted in the contact from the fire officer in Australia who has offered his help. I will post an update on that site that will, hopefully, result in more offers of help from other countries. It is worth remembering that one of Martha’s sisters was exported to New Zealand after completing  her service in Dorset. L727 BFX is now with the Ahipara Volunteer Fire Brigade in the north of New Zealand’s North Island. Wouldn’t it be nice to get the two ex Dorset Mercedes 917AF / HCB-Angus fire engines together for a photo-call in New Zealand? In addition Simon also gave FTFE an excellent contact in the Singapore Civil Defence Force which helped enormously when we were in Singapore last week.

Follow That Fire Engine Wimborne 11 As far as Fire-Aid International is concerned, it was formed in 1991 initially with the aim to supply several fire appliances to British Dependent Territories in the Caribbean (the British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands, Anguilla and Montserrat) and this scheme was funded using British Government money via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Subsequently similar projects using UK Government funding (via the Overseas Development Administration) led to FAI supplying fire appliances and equipment to Guyana in South America, St Helena and Ascension Island. In the last 15 years more redundant UK fire appliances and ambulances have been sent by FAI to Ireland, Malta, New Zealand, Romania, South Africa and, in the last three years, 44 fire engines have been sent to Poland, three of them earlier this month. FAI have also supplied several refurbished fire engines to factory and airfield fire brigades within the UK. The exact total of emergency vehicles supplied by FAI is not known but it will be in the region of 150. Website is currently under construction.

It was as a result of the overseas projects via UK ports, that FAI became involved with firefighting and emergency preparedness training on board ships andCanford Heath 3 (19-3-2006) subsequently led to the formation of Fire-Aid International Training Limited ( -website is also currently under construction). Since the first ship was visited in October 2002,  FAITL has carried out training on more than 200 ships in ports all over Europe and the Mediterranean as well as in China, South Korea and Taiwan. Principally the training has taken place on oil tankers, bulk carriers and roll-on roll-off ships but our customers have included the owners and management companies of other types of vessels.

martha in wood

Steve is a total lunatic and is completely committed to the cause. He will complete the course and I am sure that, if the crew look after Martha, she won’t let him down. I’ve seen her on many a heathland fire but I bet, even in her wildest dreams on Canford or Upton Heaths, she had absolutely no inkling of the adventure to come. What better way to round off an  accomplished career with Dorset Fire and Rescue. Martha, Steve and all of the Follow That Fire Engine Crew are a credit to the cause and a very worthy tribute to Garth Moore who I am sure is immensely proud as he helps them on their way from Celestial Fire HQ.

Simon Rowley


3 Responses to “Simon Rowley: Fire Aid International”

  1. Simon, I would like to thank you personally for all the help you have given Steve and the ftfe crew. With your advice and support Steve’s dream has become a reality! Hopefully they will be able to raise as much money as possible for three very worthy charities. Verity

  2. Simon, I can only echo mums words. Great article and fantastic to learn a little more about dad. Your help has proven instrumental

  3. Rubén Martinez March 27, 2012 at 9:29 pm

    Buenas tardes, Soy bombero de una ciudad llamada San Antonio en Paraguay(Sur America) y estoy buscando organizaciones que puedan donar equipos de bomberos y un vehiculo para mi cuartel, nuestro trabajo es voluntario y no tenemos ayuda del govierno tampoco tenemos recursos pera comprar equipos de ser posible que me ayuden les pido que se pongan en contacto con migo atravez de esta direccion de correo.

    Tte Rubén Martinez.
    Bombero Voluntario
    San Antonio- Paraguay