Harrogate Advertiser interview:

"Mission not so impossible…."

Fire Engine to

Tbilisi, Georgia

Back to homepage

The mission:

John and his team  set off on 14th September to deliver a 1970’s Dennis fire engine to Corovode in Albania where their only existing vehicle is several decades older and too slow and ineffective to be much use.  To avoid the risk of the national fire service relocating the new fire engine to a more prestigious town, the vehicle was donated to the municipal council of the town, under the control of the mayor.  This will also allow the fire engine to be used for other purposes such as damping down the dust in the streets during summer.

The route:

Harrogate, Hull - Zeebrugge by ferry,  then through Belgium, Luxemburg, France, Switzerland, Italy to Bari, ferry to Durres, Albania, and then through the mountains to the delivery destination, Corovode.

John was assisted by 2 other drivers driving in shifts to make the journey in 1 week, flying back to the UK from Tirana.


The team have worked over the summer to make essential repairs to the 20 year old vehicle and now have it in full working order.  They are very grateful for the help and support given by:

- Cambridgeshire Fire Service, advising on repairs and assisting sourcing key parts

- Pannal Motors for parts and repair assistance

- Sign-a-rama for Harrogate stickers

Funds have been raised over the year to pay for the cost of the trip through sale of chopped firewood, tree felling, handyman work and sale of many donated items.  The generosity of the many people who have made this possible will be much appreciated by the people of Albania who will now be served by this fire engine.

The vehicle is packed with several dozen sets of protective clothing, uniforms and equipment

After a catalogue of last minute repairs the fire engine is blessed before setting off.  


We had a smooth crossing to Zeebrugge on Friday evening but weren’t sure how many days it would take us to reach Bari as this is a much slower vehicle than our usual ambulances.  As it turned out, we had a faultless run and made good time, reaching the port in the early hours of Tuesday morning.  The thing we were unprepared for was the noise levels in the cab at even modest motorway speeds.  Conversation was limited!

Ear defenders were needed!

We took the Tuesday night ferry to Durres and were met by the local representative of Police Aid Convoys to help us through port customs and they then led us to our destination.  We had to stop in Berat (a town about half way) at a Customs office to sort out the transfer of ownership paperwork.  This took about 4 hours!  After Berat the road narrowed and we headed up into the mountains.  Most of the road was surfaced, but every so often, we found sections of pot-holed, unsurfaced road that made very slow going for poor ‘Dennis’ as we were now calling the fire engine.

We reached Corovode (pronounced ‘Chorovoda’) by early evening.  We were met by the mayor and one of his team who could speak good English.  The mayor had kindly arranged a hotel for us, so we unloaded the essentials and cleaned up before dinner with the mayor and some of his team.

The following day we had an official hand-over of keys in the mayor’s office and were able to give some training to the municipal fire team.  The uniforms and other equipment were unloaded and the proud fire engine driver took Dennis for a spin (followed by several more with family and friends!).  The sirens and lights were thoroughly tested, much to the enjoyment of the locals.

The hospitality was the best we have ever encountered on one of these trips and we were invited to a special lunch with the mayor and several leading business leaders.  A delicious roast lamb was served as a sacrifice to honour the donated fire engine and also bring good luck on the major construction project about to start in the town to divert heavy lorry traffic over a new

Bari is now a thriving large town and tourist destination and crime is on the increase.  As the port was closed for the night when we arrived, we had to park up to sleep in a park and ride car park near the beach.  We were very grateful for the watchful eyes of the local police and CID who made sure we had a safe stay.  

As promised, here is the photo we took with them as we were about to board the Durres ferry the following evening.  Thanks boys!

bridge away from the town centre.  Many toasts were made with the very smooth locally produced Raki !  An afternoon nap was definitely needed afterwards.

Because of the uncertainty over the journey time to Corovode and the paperwork, we were only able to book our return flights when we arrived.  This left us with a day spare.  The mayor put his two English speaking staff at our disposal and they gave us a tour of the

local beauty spots.  These included two spectacular canyons, sites of local legends and a large cavern in the cliffs that hasn’t yet been fully mapped.  Explorers have reached approximately 1200m but believe there is much more yet to discover when conditions allow.  The municipality is developing plans for tourism to grow business in the town and reverse the steady exodus to the cities they have experienced since the 1992 democratic changes.  We can see that with the right development the area has a huge amount to offer.  

Our return trip was a 6 hour bus ride to Tirana, BA flight to Gatwick and then train home.  The only hitch was when we bought some rolling luggage in Tirana to make it easier to pull around the city with us as we killed time before the evening flight.  We couldn’t contain our laughter as one part after another either broke or just fell off the case.  It made it home with one part shattered wheel remaining, no pull up handle or corner feet!

September 2012 - Fire Engine delivered to Albania