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Stondon Motor Museum (178)

Bedford RLHZ Self Propelled Pump

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 AFS. The design was based on a Bedford RL series British military truck.

Auxillary Fire Service[]

The Auxiliary Fire Service was established as part of civil defence preparations after World War II, 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. Firefighting 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 firefighting 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 equipment.

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. There was a less significant strike by firefighters in the Winter of Discontent (late 1978 and early 1979), where once again the Green Goddesses were drafted in to cover; it is largely forgotten by many as it occurred at a time when a significant percentage of public sector workers were on strike.

The role of Green Goddesses was superseded by new contingency arrangements. The Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 gave the 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.

In March 2004, the Government announced that it was conducting a test sale of 40 of its remaining fleet of more than 900 vehicles, and that it was planning to dispose of the remainder. The sale of the fleet has been completed, and most of the vehicles have been sold on to fire brigades in developing countries, mostly in Africa.

Techinical specifications[]

Unlike modern engines they have no radio, no cutting equipment, only a single ladder, and were relatively slow with a maximum speed of around 65 miles per hour (105 km/h), a comfortable cruising speed of 45 miles per hour (72 km/h), no power steering, and sensitive on corners. But one advantage that some Green Goddesses enjoy over most modern fire appliances is their four-wheel drive. Fuel consumption was between 8 mpg-imp (35 L/100 km; 6.7 mpg-US) and 10 mpg-imp (28 L/100 km; 8.3 mpg-US), depending on driving style and quantity water carried. They also have less water capacity at 400 imperial gallons (1,800 L) in 4x2 form, 300 imperial gallons (1,400 L) on 4x4 versions, than a modern vehicle, and poorer stability due to a lack of baffle partitions in the water tank. The vehicle cabins were made of wood, and offer very little crew protection in the event of an accident.

Some were later modified by the installation of flashing blue lamps and two tone warning sirens, and alterations to the rear lamps, to bring them into line with then current practice on 'regular' emergency appliances. Mechanically, they were designed to be robust and easy to maintain.

The Green Goddess carried a range of equipment from standard hose and branches, through a selection of nozzles to provide different flows and jet patterns, to Light Portable Pumps and Ceiling Arresters. They all carried a 33.5 feet (10.2 m) extension ladder, together with at least one scaling ladder. Some carried additional equipment, such as Hook ladders, radios, large bolt cutters, etc.


The Sigmund F.N.5 main pump has a capacity of 1,000 imperial gallons (4,500 L) per minute (900 imperial gallons (4,100 L) on 4x4 versions). Normal fire hoses could be used either from the main pump, which had four outlets, or from normal fire hydrants for which an assortment of connecting branches were carried. In addition, the machines carried a small Coventry Climax (350 imperial gallons (1,600 L) per minute pump, with its own petrol engine, which could also draw water from a river or other source, again feeding normal fire hoses, and which provided a separate and self-contained fire fighting capability. A 400 gallon water tank (300 gallons on 4x4) was installed, which fed small diameter hoses on each side of the vehicle to give an immediate "first aid" capacity to fight a fire whilst the main hoses were connected and brought into use. A stirrup pump was also carried, together with a full range of other suitable tools and equipment.


The vehicles were normally crewed by an officer in charge, who sat in the front passenger seat, a driver/pump operator, and four fire fighters seated on the crew bench.