Farmers and firefighters get connected to tackle field fires in Hertfordshire

05 August 2022

Farmers and firefighters in front of a bowser and fire engine

Farmers in Hertfordshire are stepping up efforts to help firefighters tackle field and wildfires that have been breaking out across the county during the heatwave.

Dubbed ‘the league of extraordinary farmers’ by fire control room staff, farmers have helped protect crops, residential property and the environment at scores of incidents, including putting in fire breaks and getting water to fire engines.

One of the major obstacles encountered has been water availability, as there was no way of getting water from farmers’ bowsers and sprays direct to the fire engines due to differences in connectors.

But after work by NFU Hertfordshire, led by regional crops board chair Jamie Burrows, and buying group North Herts Farmers, 60 connectors have been delivered to farms across the county.

Herts fire pic from Tom Parkins_85756

These will allow firefighters direct access to water supplies from bowsers and water tanks, gaining precious time and additional water resources to bring fast-moving field fires under control.

A massive spike in crop and field fires

The new connector was put through its paces at a farm at Much Hadham, Hertfordshire. It allowed fire fighters to rapidly refill the fire engine’s 1,600 litre water tank from a water bowser.

Wayne Gibbons, East Herts & Broxbourne Group Commander for Hertfordshire Fire & Rescue Service, said: “With the unprecedented weather that we’ve had, everything is so dry and we’ve had a massive spike in crop and field fires. We’ve been working extremely hard to protect the countryside and keep the community safe.

“We carry a limited supply of water on fire appliances, so we can have an initial strike into a fire, which we would supplement using fire hydrants, but these hydrants aren’t available in rural areas.

“To have water readily available for use is essential. We don’t need large amounts, but we do need a steady supply. We can use lakes or ponds. However, it can be time-consuming to get that water, so this new connector is another step forward in how farmers can assist us so we can help them protect their property.”

The development of the connector came after a meeting between NFU members and the fire service to review recent incidents and to discuss how they could work more closely together.

Close up of the connector_85754

Better prepared for future events

Jamie Burrows said: “The consensus was that the fires we’ve seen during the heatwave are not a one off and we wanted to be better prepared for future events.

“We asked the fire service what they wanted from us and they mentioned telehandlers to get access to gateways, tractors and cultivators for putting in fire breaks, and water. We talked about their fittings on fire appliances and spent about half an hour in a store shed before I grabbed one of the fittings and said, ‘I’m taking this home’.

“I went straight to see James Williams at North Herts Farmers and we worked out what we needed.

“We wanted to do something proactive on this, and with the fire service so supportive, wanting to work with us, it seemed like a golden opportunity.”

James said: “As a buying group, we were ideally placed to source these parts for about one third of the cost if members had to do it directly themselves. Having the guidance from the NFU to ensure the part was the correct one has been absolutely key and it’s great to see the connector being used.”

Herts fire safety initiative_85752

Protecting lives and property

One of the farmers who attended the demonstration was NFU member Tom Parkins. Tom, who is also a police volunteer, has been coordinating the farming response when field fires occur.

NFU County Chair Gordon Paice said: “Tom made contact with the fire and rescue service when we started harvesting in July and he’s been the link between the whole of the farming community and the fire service. When there have been multiple fires across Hertfordshire he has engaged with them, using the existing rural crime WhatsApp groups.

“This has ensured the farming community has responded in a positive way, helping to protect lives and property across the county.

“I think the league of extraordinary farmers is an apt description. As Hertfordshire farmers, we should be very proud of how we have responded and worked together on this fire issue.”

Tom said: “The fire service were surprised that we are available 24 hours day, seven days a week to respond. They asked when they could call me and I said anytime. I will take a call whenever. The system does work and getting the right coupling will make a real difference in future.

“This is the farming community pulling together to help the local community. Farmers do it time and time again, whether it’s supplying water, tackling fires, or dealing with flooding incidents.”

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