The use of armour has been around for ages - ever since cavemen began hunting and then fighting each other.
The idea is to protect an individual who is engaged in life-threatening activity such as combat.
Knights from the Middle Ages provide a classic example.
Protection systems take many forms and we use them every day. Some examples include:
- Sunblock - stops harmful UV radiation to our skin
- Seat-belts - protect us in the event of an accident
- Shoes - lets us cross areas impassable to bare-feet
- Rain-coats - keep us dry
Over the years we have developed more complex protective systems, particularly in our workplaces. Examples include:
- Industrial strength clothing and gloves
- Safety helmets and steel-capped boots
- Heavy-duty guardrails and roll-cages on bulldozers and graders
These protective systems are now legal requirements under Workplace Health & Safety Laws.
One of the most dangerous workplaces of all is the fire ground.
This "workplace" has many dangers, apart from the obvious wildfire threat itself. Some of these include:
- Smoke = loss of visibility -> everyone disorientated, including fire-fighters
- Smoke Inhalation = immediate incapacity and death
- Ember attack = showers of burning embers descend on vehicles, people and homes, often kilometers beyond the fire-front
- Community disruption and mass panic = widespread confusion - people attempt to flee but escape routes are choked with people and vehicles
- Loss of lives = families and friends destroyed, communities grieve for years afterwards
- Impact on habitat = widespread destruction of forests, plants and animals
- Catastrophic damage = obliteration of homes, farms and public buildings with costs are measured in $millions
The only people able to help us are our fire-fighters.
However, our "Wildfire Knights" need much more protection than mere body armour and chain-mail.
They need something like this!
This is a Leopard tank - with a difference - it is a fire-fighting vehicle.
By utilising the Leopard's basic chassis, this AFV has been re-designed as an armoured fire-fighting vehicle - one element in our Armoured Strike Team arsenal.
Just as its military variant, it retains the classic benefits of an AFV.
“This vehicle – developed by Europe's largest defence contractor KRAUSS MAFFEI-WEGMANN – is designed with extensive off-road and land-clearing capabilities and consists of a 5,000 gallon [20,000 litres] foam delivery system mounted on the reliable Leopard I A4 tank chassis.”
“The integrated nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) protection system of the Leopard 1, protects the crew against smoke and toxic gases, and, allows this vehicle to operate where no commercial unit can go.”
This fire-fighting vehicle is the result of years of development.
Just as the Medieval Knight sought protection in battle, this vehicle too, was designed with protection in mind, but for a different type of battle.
In this battle the differences are the:
- Nature of the enemy
- Types of weapons and tactics needed for success
Despite the differences, there are remarkable similarities between war-fighting and fire-fighting.
To discover this inter-relationship we need only review the evolution of armour.
A Brief History of Armoured Protection
Protecting sailors with body-armour was never going to work, so naval protection expanded to armour the ships.
This design encompassed these novel features:
- Armour - increased protection for crews.
- Steam-power - able to cruise at a pre-determined speed - independent of wind - adhere to timetables.
- Mobility - freely move in any direction.
- Attack 'into the wind' - unimaginable with sail alone.
Steam-powered ships revolutionised high-seas travel and it was soon applied to the land.
The Age of Railways had arrived.
Everyone desired a piece of this 'new technology' including farmers.
Steam tractors gained wide use and many were exported to all corners of the globe. They were powerful - but - as this image shows such power came with significant limitations. Increased 'horse-power' required a subsequent increase in weight. But, once again innovators overcame the problem.
Englishman David Roberts built a track-system, ensuring weight distribution over a much larger area, much more effective than the wheel.
The 'chain-track' tractor was patented in 1904.
This powerful model was exported to Canada. It was designed for safe road travel, without damaging the surface.
Roberts tested this tractor in battlefield simulated conditions with senior members of the British Army.
During one of these demonstrations soldiers named this vehicle the 'caterpillar' tractor - a name that endures to this day.
In 1911, after the British War Office showed no further interest, Roberts became frustrated and sold the patents to the Holt Tractor Company in the USA.
The battlefields of World War I also drove innovation into a new direction - a method that enabled troops to:
- Break-through barbed-wire entanglements
- Lead the attack across exposed terrain
- Cross deep trenches and/or fortifications
- Shelter inside from lethal machine-gun fire
- Gain protection from flying shell-splinters
These new developments began around Christmas, 1914 - LTCOL Ernest Swinton happened to notice a Holt tractor towing an artillery piece - this inspired him to write a memo to the Commander-in-Chief [C-in-C], 'planting the seed' for Armoured Fighting Vehicles.
Despite a lack of interest by the C-in-C and the British War Office - the idea was passed on to Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty who saw the potential benefits of such a weapon.
With Prime Minister Lloyd George's support, the 'Landships Committee' was formed; its task to design and manufacture a test model.
However, it was only in the later stages of this conflict that tanks and their crews finally began to achieve significant strategic influence over the battlefields - and more importantly - the end of the War.
There were many contributors to the doctrine of Armoured Warfare in World War I - including pioneers such as CAPT Levavasseur [France] - CAPT Liddell-Hart [Britain] & COL Fuller - [Royal Tank Corps].
Whilst many Commanders could see the benefits of tanks in the attack or assault phases, one allied General, the Commander of the Australian Corps, viewed the preservation of lives as paramount..
“…the role of the infantry is not to;
...expend itself upon heroic physical effort, or
...wither away under merciless machine gun fire, or
...impale itself on hostile bayonets,....
but on the contrary, to advance....
...under the maximum possible array of mechanical resources in the form of guns, machine guns, tanks, mortars and aeroplanes."
~ General Sir John Monash - AIF
Today, most large-scale military operations utilise various forms of Combined Arms Doctrine.
From this early technology, AFV designs have became much more sophisticated - and today - still provide devastating fire-power on the battlefield.
Whilst "tanks" are still being used as weapons of war, armoured vehicles are increasingly being developed for other roles - including important humanitarian and life-saving uses.
This provides an excellent example of personnel protection - the crew operate the vehicle by remote-control from a safe distance.
Can We Apply War-fighting Doctrine to Fire-fighting Operations?
The plan is to adapt 'yesteryear's' solutions in battlefield personnel protection and utilise this concept for 'today's' protection of crews in wildfire operations.
In other words - as Monash utilised early 20th Century Combined Arms Doctrine - where "engineering solutions" were applied to the battlefield - his goal - to shield and protect his troops from avoidable danger.
Perhaps it is time to offer our 21st Century fire-fighters, similar innovations that offer protection levels appropriate to their threat levels.
After all, many of them are volunteers - they don't even get paid to undertake such extra-ordinary tasks - yet they put their lives on the line for us all!
This quote from a biography of Monash summarises...
Source: Australian Dictionary of Biography - Online Edition
Surely it is time to give our fire-fighters this same level of support - just as that given in 1918 - and let them know that 'all [manner of support] is right behind them too.'
This is a Leopard tank - it is designed for war-fighting. The question is - can we justify the expense, effort, time and resources to adapt tank design for fire-fighting operations?
After all - in early tank development we saw...
Ploughshares turned into Swords!
..we now must face our common enemy "WILDFIRE" and use all our technology to safely defend our homes and loved ones..
So let's turn our Swords into Ploughshares!
This Armoured Personnel Carrier is also especially designed for fire-fighting. Note the dozer-blade which is used to clear roads or fire-trails blocked by logs or other debris.
The vehicle may be operated in 'hatch-down' mode, protecting the crew from falling tree limbs, ember attack and direct exposure to radiant heat.
Onboard breathing systems protect personnel from smoke or toxic fume inhalation - ideal for chemical and industrial fires.
Infra-red and thermal-imaging monitors enable safe operation of this vehicle within any of these extreme-risk environments.
Just as its military variant, it operates in rough terrain, without the risk of punctures or staked tyres.
Here's a great video showing one vehicle type in the armoured strike team arsenal in action. Find more information on www.redairmatic.com