Fire appliance builder Dennis is the only survivor of the big three manufacturers who dominated that segment of the specialised vehicle market earlier in the century. The company, which has been supplying Irish brigades from as far back as 1930, started life in the 1890s as bicycle makers.
The Dennis F8, NIK 888, was the last of a batch of seven such models bought in 1956. It was withdrawn from service in 1984 and joined the Museum the same year.
|Dennis is the only survivor of the big three fire appliance makers which dominated this segment of the specialised vehicle market earlier in the century. Dennis, Leyland and Merryweather were names proudly carried on countless fire engines. Leyland, then a huge producer of lorries, finally opted out of the fire brigade business in 1963, concentrating on their expanding bus and lorry production. Merryweather was entering a new and illustrious period in which they produced a series of appliances based on chassis made by AEC, Leyland's great rival. Dennis was not doing well in the truck or bus markets, fire appliances and refuse freighters being their staple products at the time.
Anybody making forecasts then would probably have considered Dennis the most likely of the three marques to disappear; instead, they alone have survived, going from strength to strength with their fire appliances and buses.
For many years, Dennis were represented in the Irish Republic by Poole's of Westland Row, Dublin, later to become part of Booth Poole in Islandbridge. While one or two fire appliance sales were made before 1939, it was after World War Two that Dennis became important in Ireland. This happened shortly after the introduction of the superb F series; up to 1950, four F2s, open normal control appliances, came to the brigades in Cork, Dún Laoghaire, Limerick and Waterford. They had long careers and all but the Dún Laoghaire vehicle, unfortunately badly damaged in an accident, have survived into preservation.
A great advantage of the F1, making it a favourite with rural brigades, was its narrow width, thus affording it access through narrow lanes and gates. When forward control totally enclosed appliances beginning with the F7 appeared in 1949, it was obvious that a small machine of this configuration would be equally well received.
A very keen customer was the Northern Ireland Fire Service which is believed to have taken the first F8: in honour of this event, the model is widely known as the Ulster. The F8 was available for about eight years from 1952, with production topping an impressive 150 vehicles.
The standard F8 - many fire appliances are one-offs to the requirements of a particular Brigade - has a Rolls Royce B60 six-cylinder engine of 4.25-litres capable of delivering 122bhp at 4,000rpm. Transmission is through a four speed gearbox, dry plate clutch and bevel rear axle; braking is servo hydraulic. The rear-mounted Dennis No. 2 pump can deliver 500 gallons per minute and the equipment is completed by a 200-gallon first aid tank and a 35-foot ladder.
Dublin Fire Brigade purchased their first Dennis appliances over a three-year period starting in 1953. The Brigade's first post-war deliveries, they were very long-lived, some of them serving for nearly thirty years. The batch of seven vehicles included three F8s, of which NIK 888 was the last, entering service in 1956. For most of its working life, this appliance was based at the now closed Rathmines Station and was finally withdrawn in 1984. It came into the Transport Museum collection almost immediately and in 1985 was one of the first museum vehicles to go through the AnCo (later FÁS) workshops in Broombridge.