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Engines in all Cumbria's ambulances being replaced after fires

All 103 ambulance engines across Cumbria are being replaced after fires broke out.

Ambulance fires photo
Kellie Lamb with baby son Devlin and daughter Lexi-Jo

The problem came to light after 23-year-old Kellie Lamb, of Maryport, was in labour in one of the ambulances when fire broke out last September.

She was evacuated to a police car while another ambulance was called out.

Bosses initially fitted anti-fire equipment in the Mercedes Benz 515 but have since revealed they are now replacing every one of the 103 strong fleet, costing £515,000.

A spokesman for the North West Ambulance Service NHS Trust said the trust was replacing the engines “as a precautionary measure”.

“We are committed to ensuring the health and safety of all our staff and patients and therefore, as a precautionary measure and in line with recommendations made by the manufacturer, the trust has and is continuing to undertake an engine replacement programme on all its Mercedes 515 vehicles as and when the mileage reaches 100,000.” he said.

“The total number of these is 103. To date, we have already replaced 70 engines at a cost of £5,000 each.”

Kellie later gave birth in hospital to baby boy, 7lb 11oz Devlin.

She said she first knew there was a problem when there was a bang in the ambulance.

“The ambulance driver stopped to check the tyres but could see nothing,” she said at the time.

“Then, at Northside, he stopped again and said we had to get out because the ambulance was on fire.

“I got out of the ambulance and was having a contraction in the middle of the street when a bus driver came and asked if I would like to sit in his bus until a replacement ambulance arrived.”

Three vehicles were written off after fires reportedly broke out in the ambulances last year and a further two were repaired after blazes in Merseyside and Cheshire.

Ambulance bosses said the fires were caused by a problem with the ‘remote boost start control’.

A Mercedes Benz spokesman said they were working closely with the ambulance trust and had “come to a solution to move forward”.

He said they had a local dealer who was working with them doing routine servicing and some of the replacements.

Have your say

I wonder what a "remote boost start control" actually is, or would be more commonly known as?

I've never heard of it before, can't really figure it out from the name (something to do with the turbo, I suppose? they tend to get a bit iffy around 100k), and even Google's got nothing...

Love the high-buzzword low-meaning "solution for moving forward", too. In other words, they've come to an agreement on a (slightly) reduced cost deal for replacing all the engines, as multiple instances of such catastrophic and early failures right on the cusp of what would, these days, generally be considered a reasonable warranty period, probably points to a manufacturing fault or substandard part within the engine.

One presumes they're getting wholly brand new engines and maybe even transmissions for that price, though. Commercial vehicle power units aren't hugely removed from those in normal cars any more, and I can't even think how I'd end up replacing so much of my own for the cost to tot up to a full five grand. Is it not possible just to replace that one faulty part? Or is it so tightly integrated (somehow, for some strange reason) to the engine that it's not replaceable separate from the block and/or cylinder head, or might well have caused damage (again... how, what?!) to the rest of the engine already by being in place for 100,000 miles?

I had a faulty turbo replaced recently, with a brand new one (plus a new EGR valve, oil feed pipes and an oil/filter change), to preclude it failing outright and taking the rest of the (130k-mile) engine with it. Parts + labour cost me £800...

This whole thing seems rather iffy, and with the impenetrable language used makes me wonder what the real issue is. Engine fires are usually rather simple things - something electrical shorts out and manages to ignite some wiring (or something touching it) before the fuses pop, or fuel/oil leaks out onto hot metal and, again, catches fire and ignites other flammable things within the engine bay. Stopping it is a case of making sure no flammable parts are touching or too close to very hot (or potentially very hot) surfaces or cables, ensuring all the electrical parts are in good order and the cables are properly connected, with the correct fuses installed, and checking for/correcting any leaks of flammable fluids (oil lines and seals, main gaskets, filler cap, fuel lines, injectors, injector pump and rail...). All peripheral, replaceable stuff.

The furthest I can imagine is that it's some kind of boost control system for the turbo that fails, overpressures the cylinders, causes mechanical damage and shoots metal parts up out of the whirly-bits zone and up through where the fuel lines are (possibly firing an injector clean out of the cylinder head, allowing it to spray atomised fuel in all directions), causing both the "bang", and rapid progression to a status of Everything's On Fire. But even then, unless it's something that builds up over time and causes culmulative damage to a large number of expensive parts, the preventative solution is surely to replace the faulty bit that causes the overpressure?

Posted by MarkP on 10 August 2013 at 12:14

Markus, the 'option' is a manufacturer fitted item and you've got no idea how that is integrated into the engine. The article also states Mercedes are working with the trust on a solution - I hardly think the trust will be changing engines at 5k a go unless Mercedes recommend it.

Buying German doesn't guarantee quality, some Vito vans are known for injector seals failing causing diesel leaks and loss of power and some VW T5's have a similar issue. The problem is the engines are getting too complicated and the manufactures generally wash their hands of any design faults as soon as the warranty is over.

Posted by alan on 8 August 2013 at 09:24

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