Preservation Through Operation


By 1997 Highland and Islands Fire Brigade’s own Engineering Workshops in Seafield Road, Inverness had converted 36 light vans into fire appliances

By now the Engineering department had taken a major step forward in the design and manufacture of a 6.2 tonne ‘Midi’ fire appliance incorporating a number of innovative features, this appliance constituted a new approach to the design of compact fire appliances. Unlike others, it was not a scaled down or lightened version of a Type ‘B’ water tender but a fully competent fire appliance in its own right designed from the outset for the environment in which it is intended to operate and providing virtually all of the fire and rescue facilities expected of the more expensive Type ‘B’


Carrying a Driver, Station Officer and four firefighters along with full BA equipment, 1000 litres of water, 6 lockers of equipment and a full complement of ladders these appliances were the “real deal”

Supplied to Highland and Islands Fire Brigade by Baillie Brothers of Elgin R39CJS a 6.2 tonne ISUZU NPR Chassis Cab was to be the basis for first of these vehicles to be built. Appliance building work was undertaken in the HIFB’s Seafield Road workshops and R39 was to be equipped with a Whittaker’s of Stoke on Trent crew cab and fire appliance bodywork supplied in kit form by Emergency One of Cumnock. All construction, vehicle preparation and paintwork were undertaken in the brigade’s Inverness workshops

Innovative features included the flexibility of a self-contained Alcon main pump which could be readily removed for use as a portable pump. This saved the expense of a Power Take Off or main driveline transfer box and therefore did not compromise on road performance. The construction of the body was designed to complement the ISUZU chassis using aluminium extrusion and rigidised aluminium sheeting. This method of construction optimised weight distribution and consequently handling and safety

Two prototype camera systems were installed on the appliance as a test bed to illustrate how CCTV could be used as an aid to fire and rescue operations. The digital telephone system which Highlands and Islands Development Board encouraged British Telecom to establish through the highlands was seen as the potential platform to relay video information to the Command and Control Centre (adjacent to the Inverness Workshops). Based on the “a picture tells a thousand words” theory it was hoped this facility either through its roof mast based camera or the hand held camera carried on the appliance images could allow senior officers to view an incident remotely allowing advice and support to be passed to crew in attendance. This was thought to be of significant benefits to crews based at remote stations who may have not had the full levels of training afforded their fulltime colleagues. It was hoped that if successful this technology would be rolled out as a feature on all front line appliances

Once build works were completed the innovative new appliance was thoroughly tested and also driven the almost the full length of Britain to take its place at the 1997 Bournemouth Fire Show, Highland and Islands Fire Brigade described this as the ideal vehicle for remote or rural fire Stations

On its return to the Highlands an initial short posting to Fort Augustus in 1998 was followed in 1999 by a long term posting to Bettyhill on the Sutherland’s North Coast where it replaced L216 RST a Mercedes Benz 310D van / light appliance. R39 CJS was to remain stationed in Bettyhill until 2005 when it was replaced by M427 XAS a Mercedes Benz 1124


Whilst on station in Bettyhill R39 attended 48 heath / hill fires, 14 chimney fires, 9 alarm calls, 3 road traffic incidents, 2 flood incidents, 2 house fires and 20 other incidents. It concluded its stay with a call to Armadale Surgery on the 15th of September 2005 with a reading of 21638 km’s on the clock

Next posting for R39 was to Lochcarron in Wester Ross where she was stationed until October 2008 attending 29 incidents and now showing 28394 km’s, then it was on to Torridon 22 miles to the North where not attending any incidents she remained until May 2009 leaving showing 28765 km’s

An island stint was to follow in October 2009 with Lochmaddy in North Uist becoming R39’s new home where she was to remain until May 2012 when having attended 30 incidents she was returned to Inverness to be prepared for disposal showing 31418 km’s

Now owned by the Fraser family of Dornoch, who are members of Scottish Fire and Rescue Services Heritage Trust, Brian his wife Janet and Son Steven are looking forward to restocking R39 and are planning their events calendar for 2014. Following their purchase of R39 research has shown that 3 further ISUZU NPR based appliances were built by HIFB to a slightly different design where the rear crew compartment was constructed as part of the bodywork. This resulted in R39 CJS being a unique vehicle which through its successors in ISUZU, Mitsibushi, MAN and Mercedes have proven the need for midi appliances in rural areas

Brian Fraser is a member of the Scottish Fire Brigades Trust and has undertaken the task of showing his vehicle on behalf of the Trust and it will be out on show at numerous events all over the North of Scotland.

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