by Adrian-Liviu Dorofte

Fire protection under the three-pointed star: The history of Mercedes-Benz fire-fighting vehicles and their predecessors - PART IV


Stuttgart, Germany, Jan 01, 2007

The new beginning at Daimler-Benz: 1949 - 1959

Back to the roots after 1945

In 1945 Germany was a scene of widespread destruction. While the fire brigades had attempted to prevent the worst from happening after the air raids, they were now faced with new tasks: clearing away the debris and starting out on toilsome reconstruction.

For the fire brigades, the end of the war was a new beginning only insofar as they disassociated themselves from the police forces and operated independently again. In many other respects, the fire brigades’ post-war history remained deeply rooted in the thirties and forties.
A large number of pre-war and war-time fire-fighting vehicles remained in service for a long time to come. Initially there was no choice, anyway, because the commercial vehicles which were still operational after the war were urgently needed. In the western part of Germany, this applied to some 10,000 fire-fighting vehicles half of which were used for other purposes. The rest remained in fire-fighting operation – some of them well into the nineties.

This testifies to the soundness of engines and chassis as well as to careful handling by the fire brigades. Permanently looked after so as to ensure that they function perfectly on duty but operated only now and again on short trips, these vehicles couldn’t have been better off in the hands of classic vehicle lovers.
Ten years after the war, two-thirds of all fire-fighting vehicles still dated back to pre-war and war times, and they were only gradually complemented by new vehicles. But even the new ones referred back to pre-war development in two respects: the vehicles themselves and their superstructures were based on the experience gained with their predecessors, and standardization of fire-fighting vehicles picked up exactly where it had stopped during the war.
In general, the standards were derived from the requirements of fire brigades, and bodybuilders selected the most appropriate chassis and engines from the ranges of commercial vehicle manufacturers. In the special case of the Unimog, by contrast, it appears to have been vehicle development that triggered the creation of a new, standardized fire-fighting vehicle.

L 3250: its relatives and successors and their use by the fire brigades

In May 1949, Daimler-Benz presented its first post-war development to the public: with its slightly rounded engine hood, the L 3250 took the first small step in the direction of the design that was characteristic in the fifties. Designed for a payload of three tons and a gross weight of 6.5 tons, it was powered by the six-cylinder OM 312 diesel engine which developed 90 hp from a displacement of 4.6 liters.
One year later, the L 3250 became the L 3500 which was joined at a later stage by the L 4500 with 100 hp engine. From 1955 the vehicles were called L 311 and 312, respectively, later to be replaced by the L 321 model. These three-and-a-half and four-and-a-half tonners made a brilliant career as fire-fighting vehicles.

They were among the models that were most frequently converted into fire-fighting crew vehicles LF 8 and LF 15 (LF 16 from 1955) for a crew of eight and equipped with a pump that delivered 800 or 1500 (at a later stage 1600) liters of water per minute. The TLF 15/16 pump water tenders, many of them with all-wheel drive, were even more popular during the post-war period. Depending on crew size, i.e. five or two firefighters, the water tank had a capacity of 2,400 or 2,800 liters, respectively.
But this was not all: the three- and four-and-a-half-tonners were also used as foam-agent fire tenders, hose carriers, emergency tenders, equipment carriers and turntable ladders with lengths of 18, 22, 25 and 30 meters – all set up on the L 3500 and L 4500 chassis and their successors.
Cooperation between Metz and Daimler-Benz continued to be close, even though none of the partners was exclusively bound to the other. In 1950, for instance, Metz developed a bus-type pump water tender – modeled on a vehicle design by competitor Magirus – with an extended cab being smoothly connected to the equipment-carrying box-type body. This TLF 15 was set up on an L 3500 chassis.

Heavy-duty Mercedes-Benz trucks in fire-fighting operation

Whereas the medium-duty trucks with payload capacity under five tons were produced in Mannheim, heavy-duty trucks with payload capacity upwards of five tons were produced in Gaggenau from 1950. Production was started with the L 6600, renamed L 315 in 1955 and powered by the 145 hp six-cylinder OM 315 engine. It was soon joined by the somewhat lighter L 5000 and L 5500 which were eventually replaced by the L 325. The L 326, finally, was equipped with a 200 hp 10.8 liter engine.
The heavy-duty conventional trucks in the payload category above five tons were also occasionally used as pump water tenders – models LF 25 and LF 32 – whose pumps delivered 2,500 and 3,200 liters per minute, respectively. In general, however, heavy-duty trucks were used for other purposes by the fire brigades. The chassis with payload capacity of 5 – 6.6 tons served as backbones for the frequently used turntable ladders with lengths of 30 and 37 meters. In 1954, Metz used a Mercedes-Benz chassis for setting up a turntable ladder that was as long as 52 meters – and exported the unit.

Above all, however, the fire brigades needed heavy-duty trucks for use as equipment carriers, mobile cranes and emergency crane tenders – wherever heavy loads had to be carried or lifted, in other words. The growing demand for such vehicles was attributable to the increasing significance of technical emergency services. According to a 1961 norm, a heavy-duty equipment carrier was to be designed for a gross weight of 15 tons and feature all-wheel drive as well as a cable winch with a pulling power of 4.5 tons. Such vehicles with all-wheel drive and cable winch became generally known as emergency tenders.
In the fifties, the electrically operated booms of mobile cranes and emergency tenders with cranes were capable of lifting ten to fifteen tons. In 1953, the Hamburg fire brigade, for instance, took delivery of an emergency tender with ten-ton crane from Metz. The vehicle was set up on an L 6600 chassis with 145 hp engine. An LA 315 S (6x6) all-wheel drive three-axle chassis was the backbone for a 15-ton mobile crane supplied to the fire brigade of Ludwigs-hafen in 1957. A 200 hp engine powered the 12.5-ton mobile crane on an L 326 chassis supplied to Hanover in 1958.

Indispensable for voluntary fire brigades and forest fire fighting: the Unimog
Production of the Unimog, designed by Albert Friedrich and initially manufactured in Göppingen, was taken up by Daimler-Benz in Gaggenau in 1951. Originally designed for agricultural work, the Unimog soon became an integral part of fire-fighting fleets. It was used primarily by voluntary fire brigades which, between them, owned no fewer than 1,700 of these all-wheel-driven jacks-of-all-trades in 1996, for instance.
The TLF 8 (T) pump water tender specified in edition 6 of the production guidelines for fire-fighting vehicles issued in 1955 appears to have been modeled on the Unimog: all-wheel drive, a gross weight of seven tons, a water tank for 1,200 liters and cab space for a crew of two (indicated by the T in brackets) were specified by the guideline which acquired the status of a norm in 1970. In this norm, the gross weight had grown to 7.5 tons and the water reservoir to 1,800 liters.

The most prominent feature of the Unimog is its offroad capability. Portal axles with large, equal-sized wheels front and rear, a torsionally flexible frame and all-wheel drive with differential locks ensure maneuverability even under the most difficult ground conditions. With these features, the nimble jack-of-all-trades became an indispensable helper in forest fires – and the subject of a special technical directive in 1976. In the course of the years, the engine output of these compact all-wheel-drive vehicles rose from initially 25 via 155 to 280 hp today.
The Unimog renders valuable services not only as a pump water tender, however. With a closed body, it can carry a larger crew. It is used as dry-agent tender on airports and by factory fire brigades, and it also serves as an indispensable towing vehicle on rough terrain.

Ahead of their time: cab-over-engine Pullman vehicles

From 1954, Daimler-Benz also offered cab-over-engine chassis which were initially completed with superstructures by external bodybuilders like Käss-bohrer. The design engineers christened these vehicles “Pullmann trucks” (incorrectly writing the name with a double n) and included a capital P in the model designation. “Pullman” has been a synonym of comfortable travel ever since a certain George Mortimer Pullman produced luxurious railway cars around the middle of the 19th century; touring coaches in Italy are still being generally referred to as Pullman today. Since the thirties, the cab-over-engine design had established itself especially in bus production – which is why the rounded front-end of a cab-over-engine truck in the fifties was immediately associated with touring coaches.

The voluntary fire brigade of Grefrath was the first to realize the advantages of the cab-over-engine Pullman and procured a Metz pump water tender on a Mercedes-Benz LPF 311/36 chassis in 1955. Compared to conventional trucks, cab-over-engine trucks had a shorter wheelbase and therefore a smaller turning circle. And the spacious cabs afforded an excellent view of what was happening on the road – an extremely positive feature when driving at “fire engine speed”.

The professional Hamburg fire brigade also appeared to have grasped the advantages. It started ordering Pullman-type fire-fighting crew vehicles and pump water tenders in 1958. The superstructures were all made by Messrs. Bachert in Kochendorf. Overall, they supplied 39 pump water tenders of type LF 16 and 20 TLF 16 dry-agent tenders, plus 18 DL 30 turntable ladders, a foam-agent tender and 42 lightweight LF 8 fire-fighting crew vehicles for voluntary fire brigades.

A TLF 16 pump water tender set up by Bachert on the LPF 311/36 chassis was the first vehicle in fire-fighting history to be equipped with roller shutters. Metz also produced pump water tenders and turntable ladders on Mercedes-Benz cab-over-engine chassis. And finally, Pullman buses were also used for the transport of injured people.

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