Well equipped for any eventuality.

Offroad Unimog U 5023 supports professional fire brigade in Heilbronn.

Heilbronn on the river Neckar is quite tranquil during the hot days of early July. As the host of Germany’s Federal Garden Show, the green city is in a relaxed mood. The fire-fighters at the station on Beethovenstrasse are less relaxed. Instead of enjoying the seem­ing idyll, they are called out to emergency res­cue and recovery missions on the B27, B39 and B293 roads, and on the nearby A6 and A81 motorways. And that’s not to forget the rapid assistance needed when the weather changes yet again and the river Neckar bursts its banks.

For such incidents, the crew has a powerful seven-man boat complete with its own trailer. There's just one little problem: There are currently only three slipways on the Neckar Canal, so getting into the water was previously not easy. The new "Rüst" truck has eliminated this problem, because the U 5023 featuring an Empl body unit has a crane behind the driver's cab that can lift the 5.20 metre long fire service boat and its 100 hp outboard motor directly from the attached tandem-axle trailer into the water.

It works very well even at the locks, where heavy barges often pass through, having picked up cargo at Heilbronn's Osthafen port. The fire service's diving operations usually involve searching for missing persons. “We get between 10 and 15 of those jobs a year,” reflects fire-fighter Steffen Haas. “With the new crane we are now much more flexible, and can get to locations much faster. That's why it was one of the key requirements when we were replacing our old truck,” adds Markus Widmann, engineering director of Heilbronn's emergency services. “It enables us to safely launch our 1000 kilogram boat, divers and crew at any time.


We are of course still using the slipways, such as at Horkheim. But when there’s flood­ing, such access routes are usually completely silted up, and barely passable with normal vehicles.” The U 5023 nevertheless effort­lessly pulls its crew out of the proverbial “mire”, having been factory-configured to the fire service’s specified 1.2 metre wading depth, as well as featuring heavy-tread directional profiled tyres. For extra traction, Steffen Haas just has to tap the button, caus­ing the tyre pressure to drop and increasing grip to the required level thanks to the larger contact surface.

The traction tyres and the tyre pressure control unit are a great help on the slipway.
Fire-fighter Steffen Haas appreciates the tyre pressure control unit and the 1.2 metre wading depth of the Unimog.
Vertical tail lift for practical loading.
The traction tyres and the tyre pressure control unit are a great help on the slipway.

Into the water by remote control.

Downstream of the Neckar lock, the crew practises launching the boat. Extending and securing the supports, Haas places the Pal­finger crane “into the water” using a level. The tolerance is just a few degrees. The crane then automatically calculates the required lifting forces. Haas directs the articulated arm extension via remote control to a col­league who had first locked the aluminium tube superstructure on the boat and detached the central lashing strap at the front of the hanger. With the fourfold extension, the hook moves centimetre by centimetre towards the centre of the boat. The monitor shows a deflection of 8.80 metres as Haas's fire-fight­er colleague hooks in the cable anchorage. One more short rotation, then the cable is carefully released - and the hull is in contact with water.

Forest fires and salvage operations on slopes.

“We not only protect 22 kilometres of the river Neckar, but also lots of green areas and forest where fires can quickly break out on hot days,” Widmann reports. In fact, they protect 1,450 hectares of forest. So the U 5023 was configured to handle those kinds of operations too. Thanks to the hydraulic tail lift, the fire-fighters can quickly load materi­al on trolleys. “That includes our high-pres­sure jet sprayer, for example, which has a 600 litre capacity and is immediately ready for use,” explains the engineering specialist.

“There's actually a barbecue ban up here at present,” says the fire-fighter. “But not everyone sticks to it. If worst comes to worst, we have to get out fast and put out the fire.” Steffen Haas and his colleagues demonstrate the handling of an incident under real condi­tions in a narrow forest aisle. In such a case, the winch is also in regular use - today, with no fire, the fire-fighters are on hand once again to help a winegrower whose tractor has got stuck.

When the steel cable has been reeled in, “HN 1/51” - as the new unit is named - heads back to the station, on call again, ready to respond to the next incident. Training is pro­vided to ensure the crew are able to handle the unit correctly. Some 30 crew need to be trained - in use of the crane and at the wheel of the Unimog.

Text: Gerfried Vogt-Möbs, photos: Henrik Morlock

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