The Green Goddess or Bedford self-propelled pump is a type of fire engine. It has recently made the headlines because emergency fire cover will be provided by Green Goddesses manned by the armed forces during the British firefighters' strike, as a part of Operation Fresco. The first part of the strike ran from 1800 GMT, November 13th, 2002 until 1800 GMT November 15th, 2002

Vehicles for the apocalypse

After the second world war it was decided that in the event of a nuclear attack by the Soviet Union, what remained of urban fire brigades would need assistance in coping with the aftermath of the attack. The Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS), an organisation consisting chiefly of civilian volunteers, would tackle blazes and restore water supplies using Green Goddesses.

A rugged fire fighting vehicle was designed and production began in 1953. At the time, they were state of the art fire fighting vehicles, better than what most local authorities had.


The nuclear attack that the Green Goddess was created for never came, and in 1968 the AFS was disbanded. The Green Goddess fleet was put into storage, emerging occasionally to assist in various emergencies, such as pumping water in floods or drought or more notably during the firefighters' strike of 1977.

The Green Goddesses have seen fairly little use over the past few decades and many have under 3000 miles on the clock. They have been kept in good condition and well maintained over the years, but how efficient will the fleet of 827 vehicles that the MoD will be deploying be at fighting fires? The Green Goddesses will probably be as good at fighting fires as they have ever been, but basically the problem is that firefighting technology has moved on in the last 50 years.

Inferior equipment

A Green Goddess has a single 35 ft ladder, incapable of reaching any height above the second floor of a house or office, whereas a recent fire engines, of which more than 3000 are in use, have 5 45 ft ladders and 150 ft aerial platform turntables. A Green Goddess carries only 300 gallons of water, 200 less than its modern counterparts. Not only that but a Green Goddess only has a low pressure pump, whereas modern fine engines have high pressure pumps, which create a high pressure mist of water that is more efficient at putting out fires.

The Green Goddess has a generally inferior set of equipment. They have no radio (but during Operation Fresco they will have police escorts when on duty). They do not have respirator equipment, essential for rescuing people trapped in burning buildings. Separate teams equipped for entering smoke-filled buildings will be available during Operation Fresco, but there are not enough teams for each Green Goddess to be accompanied by one. They do not have cutting gear, useful for rescuing people trapped in car accidents. Lastly a modern fire engine can usually reach speeds of 70 or 80 mph, whereas a Green Goddess tops out at just 35 mph. A few minutes make an enormous difference when it comes to fighting fires. The only area where the Green Goddess wins is that it has four wheel drive which most fire engines lack.

Overall, the Green Goddess is a simple machine, because it was designed to be operated by civilian crews with only basic firefighting training. As Deputy Chief Fire Officer Alan House, author of They Rode Green Fire Engines says "If you just need to pour water on something it's okay, but it doesn't carry the range of equipment fire engines do". Although Operation Fresco partially addresses this lack of specialist equipment, the Green Goddess is unsurprisingly no match for a modern fire engine.,12536,816998,00.html

In Northern Ireland, Green Goddesses are in fact painted yellow. There are a few theories on the reason behind this:

  • Green is traditionally an Irish colour; in the rather messy political atmosphere of Northern Ireland, this is a bad idea. People would throw bricks and firebombs at them.
  • Green would make them look too much like military vehicles, which are also unpopular in this area. People would throw bricks and firebombs at them.

So instead, we painted them yellow. People throw bricks and firebombs at them.

I actually served with a Green Goddess Crew in the Firefighters' Strikes of 2002. Without giving the background to the fire strikes (that's for another node) I will here give an impression of life for the military on the strikes. Please note that this is a personal narrative, and in no way reflects the views or policy of the Ministry of Defence, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister, or Royal Air Force.

I was in charge of Temporary Service Fire Station (TSFS) Port Talbot, a small town in South Wales probably best known for its steel industry. South Wales used to be an economic powerhouse, especially prior to the privatisation of British Steel in the 1980s. TSFS Port Talbot was located at the BP chemical plant, Baglan, about 3 miles outside the town centre.

I was the officer commanding (OC). Under me were 15 Royal Air Force trained personnel, including a Flight Sergeant, who was my second-in-command, and a sergeant, my third-in-command. We were all formed under the codename, Operation FRESCO, and our job was simple; to fight fires, save lives, and maintain safety in Port Talbot, the jobs the striking fire-crews would usually have carried out.

I was present throughout the strikes, and my team responded to a variety of calls. It was not an easy job for us, as not one of us was an RAF firefighter. I am a Fighter Controller, my two sergeants were Parachute Jump Instructors, and the rest were a mixture of technicians and RAF police.

Op FRESCO was a national operation, one of the largest such operations ever carried out by the military in support of other government departments. The whole operation was co-ordinated by the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM), under John Prescott MP. The Ministry of Defence had no involvement other than providing the required personnel.

When we arrived at Baglan, there were no facilities other than a few empty rooms. We swiftly set up a general office/rest area, kitchen, and games room. The MoD is very good at treating us well on deployed ops, and this translated well to Op FRESCO. We were supplied with civilian caterers and a variety of games, a TV and video recorder, and a phone for compassionate purposes. We were also working in field conditions, meaning we did not have to pay for our food or accommodation (we were staying at the Grand Hotel, Port Talbot).

Although the RAF had control on the fireground, we were accompanied at all times by civilian police, who provided an escort for the Green Goddess, which had swiftly been christened Delilah after Tom Jones's song. Travelling at a top speed of 50mph, but usually restricted to 30mph, the GG was no match for civilian firetenders, although it did have a decent water capacity (300 gallons as opposed to the civilian engines' 500 gallons), and could link in to fire hydrants. I drilled my team daily to make sure they were up to the task, and I was confident that my Flight Sergeant and Sergeant - both in charge of shifts of 7 personnel - were well up to the challenges facing them.

Our first call was to a fire in a shed next to a derelict house (there are lots of derelicts in Port Talbot, it was one of our greatest concerns). The fire was nearly out of control when we arrived, but within 20 minutes it was under control. Delilah stood up well to the challenge, and A shift had proven that TSFS Port Talbot could do the job.

We attended a variety of car- and skip-fires, until eventually we were faced with the most difficult challenge of all.

On Saturday 23 November, shortly before 0820, we received a fax directing us to attend a road crash on the M4. A lorry had bounced over the central reservation, and landed square on top of a Ford Mondeo carrying two people. Needless to say, both died in the crash. A third vehicle, a minibus, piled into the crash, although no-one else was hurt.

The crew who attended were badly shaken up by this, as was I (I attended to deal with the media). We had been dealing with small, controllable fires, and now we were at the scene of two deaths. To their credit, the civilian fire brigade, upon hearing about the crash, deserted their picket and rushed to the scene. They were always helpful and courteous to us. Following this incident - one of the most serious faced by any FRESCO personnel - I gave two interviews to the BBC, one live on BBC News 24, the other to BBC News Wales. I was told not to mention casualties, since the families had not been informed. This was difficult, and it really brought home the tragedy of the incident.

The media were generally very good throughout the strike, never taking sides. The only criticism we had was that, as we were all wearing Combat Soldier 95 uniforms (camouflage, usually worn for such work) the media - and, therefore, the public - instantly assumed we were all Army personnel. In fact, there were 5,000 Royal Air Force personnel and 3,000 Royal Navy personnel involved. We had ROYAL AIR FORCE printed along the side of Delilah, but it didn't seem to make much difference. Even I was referred to as an Army officer in the report, while wearing an RAF beret!

The reason I write this is because everyone needs to know the difficulties facing firefighters from day-to-day, and also the difficulties I and 19,000 other military personnel faced on Op FRESCO. The military were not thanked for our work, and we asked for no thanks. It was a difficult job, and an interesting and, at times, entertaining one - we just got on with what we had to do. It was difficult for some of us - men separated from their wives and families, living on a permanent shift basis, never free from work. One of my men found out his wife was pregnant with their second child, and could not go home to see her for three weeks. Hopefully if it happens again, people will better appreciate the difficulties we faced, and provide us with a little more support.

On the issue of the Yellow Goddesses in Northern Ireland, we appreciated the difficulties facing the FRESCO crews there - some of us have worked in Northern Ireland. We found it funny, though, that the government thought that by painting a military vehicle yellow it would deflect political problems - despite the men in green suits riding around in them!

Green Goddess is a creamy, herbed salad dressing created in the early 1920s by Phillip Roemer, then-executive chef of San Francisco's Palace Hotel. Legend has it that Roemer named his new dressing "Green Goddess" in honor of actor (and hotel guest) George Arliss, the lead in William Archer's play of the same name.

This was a very popular salad dressing in the United States until the 1980s - an indifferent bottled version is still marketed by Kraft/Seven Seas. If you've never tried the fresh version of Green Goddess, you should! The Palace still serves this dressing on a salad of mixed greens topped with fresh vegetables and Dungeness crab- and you make it at home using this recipe:

The Palace Hotel's Green Goddess Dressing

1 cup (240 ml) mayonnaise (homemade or Hellman's)
1/2 cup (120 ml) cultured sour cream
4 tablespoons finely snipped chives
4 tablespoons minced fresh curled parsley
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 anchovy fillets, rinsed, dried and finely minced
Generous inch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Just add all the ingredients to a medium mixing bowl and blend thoroughly with a fork or whisk. This can be served immediately, but is best if you store it in the refrigerator a few hours so the flavors can tango a while.

There are many common substitutions found in recipes for Green Goddess. Try replacing the wine vinegar with tarragon vinegar, using 1-1/2 teaspoons anchovy paste rather than fillets, or omit the parsley in favor of chopped, fresh basil. Play with the basic recipe as desired.

Rombauer and Becker, Joy of Cooking, 1975 edition
The Plaza Hotel,History of the Green Goddess Dressing
Susan Saperstein, San Francisco’s Green Goddess Dressing

BrevityQuest10 - 298

Yes, it's also a fire engine...

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