Fire apparatus

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A fire engine equipped with a water pump and a 1,000-gallon water tank.

Fire apparatus (or firefighting apparatus) is a generic term that refers to a vehicle designed to fight fires, such as a fire engine or fire truck. Although the terms "fire truck" and "fire engine" are often used interchangeably, emergency services workers distinguish between them. A fire engine is designed to pump water using an engine. By contrast, a fire truck has no on board water supply, using that room instead for other emergency gear, such as ladders, hydraulic platforms, extrication equipment, and various heavy rescue tools.

A wildland fire engine, designed to handle mountainous dirt road conditions.
A telescopic aerial platform unit, with a working height of 53 meters (about 178 feet).

Fire engine (engine company)

A fire engine is equipped with an engine to pump water, which can be obtained via an on board water supply, fire hydrant, water tender, or any other available water source by using draft water suction.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the term "fire engine" was first used in the seventeenth century, in exactly the same sense it is now, "a machine for throwing water to extinguish fires."

There are several configurations of fire engines relating to the position of the pump operating panel including top, side, front, and rear mount. On occasion, fire engines have also been used as water cannons for crowd control. The pumpers may carry some amounts of water, but they may rely also on fire hydrants and water tenders.

The primary purpose of the engines is for direct fire suppression. They may carry many tools, including ladders, pike poles, axes, Halligans, fire extinguishers, and ventilating equipment.

Today, an engine can be a real multi-purpose vehicle, carrying professionals and equipment for fire fighting, rescue tasks, first response missions, and so forth. The New York City Fire Department (FDNY) was the first to introduce the "squad" concept for an engine and developed the rescue pumper. A typical FDNY squad has a 500 U.S. gallon (gal) (1900 liter) water tank and specialized rescue equipment, but carries a reduced amount of hose compared to a standard engine.[1] Since its introduction in New York, several other U.S. cities have adopted the concept, sometimes calling them Rescue Engines.

FDNY ladder trucks extend to the roof of this apartment fire.

A fire truck is differentiated from a fire engine in that a simple fire truck has no on board water supply. They are instead equipped with a mix of long ladders, hydraulic platforms, additional firefighting equipment, a variety of heavy rescue tools, extrication equipment, and other emergency gear. Wildland firefighting requires unique vehicles that can climb mountain roads, be self-reliant, and have high clearances for wheels and suspension. Wildland fire engines and wildland fire tenders may have lower capacities to carry water, but can go into environments where urban fire trucks would become stuck.

The turntable ladder is the best-known form of fire truck, but there are also rescue squads, floodlight trucks and other specialized units. A tiller truck, a semi-trailer truck carrying a turntable ladder, requires two drivers. It has separate steering wheels for front and rear wheels (the steering device for the rear is sometimes a tiller, rather than a true steering wheel). This truck is often used in areas with narrow streets that prohibit longer single-vehicle trucks from entering. Use of the tiller truck is declining in the United States; however, some cities, such as Baltimore, Maryland, Los Angeles, California, San Francisco, California, Dallas, Texas, Charlottesville, Virginia, New York City, New York, Detroit, Michigan, Chesapeake, Virginia, Portland, Oregon, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, still rely heavily on them.

The terms tiller and hook and ladder are not interchangeable. Truck companies generally operate from ladder trucks. Under the general heading of ladder truck, there are many types of ladder trucks. Rear mounts, mid-mounts, tower ladders, tillers, and articulating booms are the main types. Generally, ladder trucks carry a wide assortment of ladders and hooks. Ladders have fairly obvious purposes; hooks can be used for a variety of things, but most commonly for pulling drywall or plaster walls away from framing members to expose hidden fire, and to allow access for extinguishing same. Hooks can also be used for pulling siding, breaking windows, and so forth. Technically, any vehicle carrying hooks and ladders could be considered a hook and ladder vehicle.

Telescopic aerial platforms can reach heights of over 328 feet (ft) (over 100 meters).[2] However, most of them are designed to reach the height of approx. 100 ft (33 m). These aerials typically have ladders integrated to a hydraulic boom. A joined additional arm gives the platform an ability to go "up-and-over" or bend over a roof. These aerials are equipped with a control unit, lighting equipment, a fixed water way, power outlets and compressed air outlets. A stretcher can be transported over the platform. Some units are even operated with remote-controlling in case of dangerous chemical fires.

Aerial apparatus

Aerial apparatus is a form of fire apparatus that can be used for an elevated master stream (A master stream is a fire service term for a water stream of 350 gallons per minute or more. Master streams are often found at the end of aerial ladders, tele-squirt nozzles, or monitor nozzles.), high-angle rescue, and ventilation.

Types of Aerials:

  • Aerial ladder—this aerial may or may not have a pre-piped waterway to operate the elevated master stream.
  • Aerial platform—unlike the aerial ladder, a firefighter can actually move the platform from the bucket on the tip of the aerial. For this reason the platform trucks are better suited for rescue.
  • Aerial water tower—this truck usually has a very high volume pump and is capable of delivering 1000 to 5000 gpm.
  • Quint—most modern aerial ladders and platforms qualify for the "quint" (five uses) designation. This means the truck has five major components, a water pump, water tank, aerial ladder, ground ladders and hoses.
  • Articulating boom or Snorkel—similar to the articulating boom truck used for tree trimming and power line work, but is usually equipped with a pre-piped waterway and master stream nozzle.

Other apparatus

There are also rescue/medical companies with their own distinctive vehicles, including ambulances and heavy rescue or support trucks. A quint, or quintuple combination pumper, functions as a mix of an engine and a truck by carrying its own water and pump like an engine, as well as elevating ladders and more equipment, like a truck. The quint carries the five main things between a fire engine and an aerial ladder truck: a pump, a water tank, hoses, an aerial ladder, and ground ladders. In the United States, these are most often found on the East Coast, or where staffing levels are not high enough for multiple vehicles. Also noteworthy are apparatuses referred to as quad companies. Like quint companies, quads are a quadruple combination of the hose, pump, and on board water supply of an engine company, and the ground ladders of a truck company. Quads must also carry more truck company tools to qualify as such. Unlike quint companies, however, quad companies do not mount aerial devices such as telescoping ladders or platforms, and resemble very long engine companies.

In some communities, a fire apparatus, often a paramedic engine, will be used to carry first responder-educated firefighters, paramedics, or EMTs to medical emergencies because of their faster response times due to forward staging in the city compared to ambulances coming from hospitals.[3] This sometimes puzzles people who see a fire apparatus race past but do not see any fire; however, it remains a practical application, as medical calls often outnumber fire calls for such departments.

Water tenders (also called Tanker Trucks) carry larger amounts of water supporting engines and ladders in fires, especially in rural areas where fire hydrant systems are not readily available. An Airport Crash Tender is a specialized apparatus used to extinguish fires at airports. Various kinds of specialized or support vehicles are used in fire brigades: Foam units, extinguishing powder units, hazardous material units, mobile command centers, divers units, and, for example, air units (that is, vehicles supporting the use of compressed air). In heavily forested areas, a special kind of fire truck, known as a brush truck, is used. They are usually trucks with off-road capabilities for traversing rough terrain in order to reach the fire. On rough or snowy terrains, also tracked vehicle (for example, Helsinki Rescue Department, Finland 2007), snowmobile (for example, in Kolari, Regional Rescue Services of Lappi), and various other off-road vehicles are used in rescue and firefighting operations.

Sometimes hookloaders are tapped for seldom-used equipment. A hookloader can load a container very rapidly and act as a special unit with lower investment costs. For example, the Helsinki Rescue Department in Finland has several hookloader trucks and more than 40 containers, including a water container, a hose container, an oil destruction container—even a special container carrying absorbing material and a spreader.[4] This container is used to clean spilled oil on streets and highways; after the oil has absorbed to the absorbent, a street brushing machine is used to collect the absorbent. Containers may also carry a command post, material for catastrophes, hoses and pumps for forest fires, even field hospitals, or for example, high-power pumps. Hookloaders are also built on heavy cross-country trucks originally designed for military purposes.

Fire brigades all over the world also use trailers to carry rigid-hulled inflatable boats, small hovercrafts (for example, in Tampere Regional Rescue Department, Finland 2007), hydrocopters or other kind of rescue boats, and various other kind of special equipment which is not needed in daily operations or cannot be carried in an engine.

Crew assignment

Engines are normally staffed with at least three people—an officer, a driver, who usually operates the pump, and a firefighter. Preferably, an engine will carry a second firefighter, to increase effectiveness in safely attacking a fire. In some countries, such as Finland, an engine carries the unit leader, an engineer, and one or two pairs of firefighters.[5] Since aggressive smoke diving takes places in a very hot and hostile environment with high risks, fire fighters work as pairs, and at least one more pair of divers is needed on scene for the safety and shifting.

In the United States, firefighters are generally deployed into fire companies specializing in certain tasks. Most common are engine companies and ladder, or "truck," companies. In addition, large cities frequently staff rescue companies. By definition, each company is led by an officer (a captain or lieutenant) who commands several firefighters. Staffing of fire companies varies by jurisdiction and frequently by company type. In large cities, fire company staffing may vary from as few as three to as many as six personnel.

In the United Kingdom, firefighters are arranged in "brigades," usually at county (or similar) levels. These are divided into stations, which range in size but in almost every instance have at least one "pump." In addition, general purpose engine stations may have specialist vehicles such as turntable ladders, hydraulic platforms, foam tenders, and so forth. The number of personnel at a station varies depending on the size of the station and whether it is full time, day manned or retained. Generally, the crew of an average sized "pump" is around five.

Brief history of firefighting vehicles

Ctesibius of Alexandria is credited with inventing the first fire pump around the second century B.C.E. The fire pump was reinvented in Europe during the 1500s, reportedly used in Augsburg in 1518, and Nuremberg in 1657. A book of 1655 inventions mentions a steam engine (called fire engine) pump used to "raise a column of water 40 ft [12 m]," but there was no mention of whether it was portable.

Colonial laws in America required each house to have a bucket of water on the front stoop (especially at night) in case of fire, for the initial "bucket brigade" that would throw the water at fires.

Philadelphia obtained a hand-pumped fire engine in 1719, years after Boston's 1654 model appeared there, made by Joseph Jencks, but before New York's two engines arrived from London.

By 1730, Newham, in London, had made successful fire engines; the first used in New York City (in 1731) were of his make (six years before formation of the NYC volunteer fire department). The amount of manpower and skill necessary for firefighting prompted the institution of an organized fire company by Benjamin Franklin in 1737. Thomas Lote built the first fire engine made in America in 1743.

Ericsson made a similar one in New York in 1840. John Ericsson is credited with building the first American steam-powered fire engine.

Until the mid-nineteenth century, most fire engines were maneuvered by men, but the introduction of horse-drawn fire engines considerably improved the response time to incidents. The first self-propelled steam engine was built in New York in 1841. It was the target of sabotage by firefighters and its use was discontinued, and motorized fire engines did not become commonplace until the early twentieth century.

For many years, firefighters sat on the sides of the fire engines, or even stood on the rear of the vehicles, exposed to the elements. While this arrangement enhanced response time, it proved to be both uncomfortable and dangerous (some firefighters were thrown to their deaths when their fire engines made sharp turns on the road), and today nearly all fire engines have fully enclosed seatings for their crews.

Early pumpers

Early pumpers used cisterns as a source of water. Water was later put into wooden pipes under the streets and a "fire plug" was pulled out of the top of the pipe when a suction hose was to be inserted. Later systems incorporated pressurized fire hydrants, where the pressure was increased when a fire alarm was sounded. This was found to be harmful to the system, and unreliable, and today's valved hydrant systems are typically kept under pressure at all times, although additional pressure may be added when needed. Pressurized hydrants eliminate much of the work in obtaining water for pumping through the engine and into the attack hoses. Many rural fire engines still rely upon cisterns or other sources for drafting water into the pumps.

Early aerials

As buildings grew in height since the late nineteenth century, various means of reaching burning tall structures have been devised. At first, manually-extendable ladders were used; as these grew in length (and weight) these were put onto two large, old-fashioned wheels. When carried by fire engines, these ladders had the wheels suspended behind the rear of the vehicle, making it a very distinctive sight which disappeared from some Commonwealth countries only in recent years.

Before long, the turntable ladder—which was even longer, mechanically-extendable, and installed directly onto a fire truck—made its appearance. Since the late 1930s, the longest turntable ladders have reached a height of 150 ft (45 m), requiring the aforementioned "tiller trucks" to carry such ladders.

After the Second World War, turntable ladders were supplemented by the aerial platform (or the "Cherry Picker") attached onto a mechanically-bending arm (or "snorkel") installed onto a fire truck; while these could not reach the height of the turntable ladder, these platforms could extend into previously unreachable "dead corners" of a burning building.


  1. FDNY Squad 18, The Rig. Retrieved September 22, 2006.
  2. Bronto Skylift, [ HLA Range Brochure.] Retrieved April 28, 2007.
  3. A. Walter, C. Edgar, M. Rutledge, First Responder Handbook: Fire Service Edition.
  4. Helsinki Rescue Department
  5. Ministry of the Interior, Pelastusajoneuvojen yleisopas. Retrieved April 28, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bjorge, Roger and Ronald Doerring. Pirsch Fire Apparatus: 1890-1991 Photo Archive. Hudson, WI: Iconografix, 2002. ISBN 1583880828
  • Hirst, Ben A. Fire Apparatus Driver/Operator. Sudbury, MA: Jones and Bartlett Publishers, Inc., 2004. ISBN 0763728454
  • Parrish, Kent. Pierce Fire Apparatus 1939-2006: An Illustrated History. Hudson, WI: Iconografix, 2007. ISBN 1583881891

External links

All links retrieved March 26, 2024.


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