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Extensive Definition

A fire apparatus, fire engine, fire truck, or fire appliance is a vehicle designed to assist in fighting fires, by transporting firefighters to the scene, and providing them with access, water or other equipment. In some areas, the terms fire engine and fire truck represent different types of fire fighting apparatus.


Fire Engine

The fire engine may have several methods of pumping the water to the fire. The most common method is to pass water through hoses to the fire, from an array of valves.
The vehicle may also have a fixed pumping "cannon" (called a fire monitor or deluge), which can direct the water as pointed by the operator. The horizontal and vertical range of the monitor arrangement usually is limited and appropriate only for specific tasks, such as airport fires. Monitors have been used as water cannons for crowd control.
A fire engine may have an on-board water reservoir, allowing it to fight a fire immediately upon arrival, or may be completely reliant on external sources, such as fire hydrants, water tender, river or reservoir, by using draft water suction.
A development is the use of an impulse fire-extinguishing system (IFEX), in which the water is highly pressurised into a vaporous mist, creating a cooling effect that is more efficient than that of water alone.
A modern fire engine is usually a multi-purpose vehicle carrying professionals and equipment for a wide range of fire-fighting and rescue tasks. Therefore, most fire engines carry equipment such as ladders, pike poles, axes, Halligans, fire extinguishers, and ventilating equipment. In some areas, a ladder truck may carry these tools as well. Such a vehicle would in that case be known as a "Hook and Ladder" truck.
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 (1900-L) water tank and specialized rescue equipment, but carries less hose than a standard engine. Since its introduction in New York, several other American cities have adopted the vehicles, sometimes calling them rescue engines.

Turntable ladder

The turntable ladder, also known as an aerial ladder, or sometimes abbreviated to simply TL is the best-known form of specialized fire apparatus (sometimes known as a fire truck), and is used to gain access to fires occurring at height, where conventional ladders carried on other appliances might not reach.
The name is derived from the fact that the large ladder is mounted on a turntable on the back of a truck or lorry, allowing it to pivot around a stable base, which in turn allows a much greater ladder length to be achieved). In order to increase its length, the ladder is telescopic. Modern turntable ladders are hydraulic or pneumatic in operation. A ladder also can be mounted behind the cab. This is called "mid ship". This arrangement allows a shorter wheel base for truck, and also can be more stable in some conditions.
The turntable ladder units replaced the stand alone wheel mounted long ladders which were seen on fire engines before the widespread use of hydraulics.
The key functions of a turntable ladder are:
  • Allowing access or egress of firefighters and casualties at height
  • Providing a high level water point for firefighting (elevated master stream)
  • Providing a working platform from which tasks such as ventilation or overhaul can be executed
While the traditional characteristic of a 'fire truck' was a lack of water pumping or storage, many modern turntable ladders have a water pumping function to them (and some have their own on board supply reservoir), and may have a pre-piped waterway running the length of the ladder, to allow the firefighters at the top a stream of water. In some cases, there may also be a monitor at the top of the ladder for ease of use. Other appliances may simply have a trackway which will hold a manually run hose reel securely, and prevent it from falling to the ground.
Some turntable ladders may have a basket or platform (sometimes known as a bucket) mounted at the top of the ladder, as on a hydraulic platform, and these are called tower ladders. These can provide a secure place for a firefighter to operate equipment from, and allow multiple people to be carried (including rescued persons).
A tiller truck, also known as a tractor drawn aerial, is a specialised turntable ladder appliance mounted on a semi-trailer truck. 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 prevent longer single-vehicle trucks from entering. Some cities, including Los Angeles, California, San Francisco, California, Baltimore, Maryland, Seattle, Washington and New York City, New York rely heavily on them.
In some areas, the turntable ladder appliance may be termed a 'hook and ladder' vehicle, as it will carry an array of ladders and hooks. Hooks are used most commonly for pulling drywall or plaster walls away from framing members to expose hidden fire, and to allow access for extinguishing the fire. Hooks can also be used for pulling siding, breaking windows, etc. Technically, any vehicle carrying hooks and ladders could be considered a hook and ladder vehicle.

Quint and Quad

In some areas, the turntable ladder may be known as a quad or quint, as it is capable of performing multiple tasks (pump, water tank, fire hose, aerial device, and ground ladders) with each of these functions making up one of its five (quint) or four (quad) cabilities.

Hydraulic platforms

A hydraulic platform, also known as articulating booms, snorkels, platform trucks or sometimes shortened to just HP, is a specialized aerial work platform designed for firefighting use. They have a number of functions, which follow the same principles as the turntable ladder, providing high level access and elevated water pump positions.
Some hydraulic platforms are articulated, which allows the arm to bend in one or more places, giving it the ability to go 'up and over' an obstacle (such as a building roof). There are non-articulated platforms, based on standard aerial work platforms, although the most common type is the tower ladder (mentioned above in the Turntable ladder section). Hydraulic platforms (articulated or not) may still have a ladder arrangement fitted to the arm, primarily as an emergency measure. In some jurisdictions these can be denoted ladder platforms.
Most hydraulic platforms are designed to reach a height of around 33 metres (100 feet), although larger models are capable of reaching heights of over 100 metres (328 feet).
Many hydraulic platforms are fitted with additional equipment in the platform itself, which can include a control panel, lighting equipment, a fixed water outlet or monitor, power outlets or compressed air outlets (allowing the fixing of rescue equipment, such as the jaws of life). Many platforms are also adapted or capable of carrying a stretcher. Some units have video systems and remote control in case of dangerous chemical fires.
Some hydraulic platforms might also be designated as a quad or quint engine, as it is capable of performing multiple tasks (pump, water tank, fire hose, aerial device, and ground ladders)

Aerial water towers

In some instances, fire departments may have a specialised aerial water tower, the purpose of which is to deploy an elevated master stream of water, although it does not provide any access for firefighters. In most departments, this function is now performed by a hydraulic platform or turntable ladder, so this type of appliance is quite rare, and most examples of this type of unit are historical. The historical units of this type were usually manually or mechanically raised and lowered using friction drums or ratchet mechanisms.

Water tenders

A water tender, which can also be known as a tanker truck or water bowser is a specialist fire appliance with the primary purpose of transporting large amounts of water to a scene. These are especially useful in rural areas where fire hydrants are not readily available.
Most tenders have an on-board pumping system. This pump is often not of sufficient power to fight fires (as it is designed to be attached to a fire engine), but is more often used to draw water in to the tender from hydrants or other water sources. In some areas, the tenders are used to pump water during floods, and may be fitted with a heavier duty pump for this purpose.
Most water tenders are designed to carry loads of 1000 gallons (approx. 3800 litres) or more. In the US, 1000 gallons is the requirement in the NFPA standards. Some may carry up to or even upwards of 5000 gallons (more than 20 000 litres) of water - with a trailer even more .

Wildland fire appliances

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 be deployed to fight fires in environments where urban fire trucks would be unable to operate due to rugged terrain.
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.

Airport crash tender

An airport crash tender is a fire engine designed for use at aerodromes and airports in aircraft accidents.
The features include a good acceleration, ability to move on rough terrains outside the runway and airport area, large water capacity, foam tank, a high-capacity pump, and water/foam monitors with a good throw distance. Newer AR-FF vehicles also incorporate Twin Agent nozzles/injection systems to inject a stream of Purple-K dry chemical into the AFFF foam stream "knocking-down" the fire faster. Some also have Halotron tanks with handlines for situations that require a clean agent to be utilized. These features give the airport crash tenders a capability to reach an airplane rapidly, and rapidly put out large fires with jet fuel involved.
Some tenders have an elevated extended extinguishing arm called a Snozzle, giving a possibility to raise a water/foam cannon into the height of approx. 10 - 20 meters. Some arms have reinforced nozzles that can puncture through superficial structures of an aeroplane to fight a fire inside the fuselage. .
ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization) has given standards and recommended practices on rescue fire fighting categories of civil aerodromes . National aviation authorities may have given even further requirements on aerodrome rescue and fire services.
The rescue fire services are based on a critical aircraft based on a statistical analysis of movements (take-offs and landings) on the airport. The aerodrome category is based on the size of the biggest aircraft taking a movement on the aerodrome. In addition, the number of movements of the critical aircraft is calculated, and the category can be decreased by one if the number of movements is lower than the standard describes. There are also minimum category levels based on e.g. the number of seats in the critical aircraft.
Depending on the airport category, the standards determine the minimum number of rescue fire-fighting vehicles. In addition, requirements are given on the water and foam capacities, discharge rates for foam solutions, and minimum dry chemical powder (complementary agent) amounts, reserve stocks of fire fighting agents, ability to operate on rough terrain, and acceleration of the air crash tenders. The end of each runway has to be achieved in a response time of two minutes, and any part of the movement area has to be achieved in a response time not exceeding three minutes.

Rescue Unit

A heavy rescue vehicle, often referred to as a rescue company, rescue squad, technical rescue, heavy rescue, or simply, fire engine is a type of specialty firefighting or EMS (Emergency Medical Services) apparatus. Essentially giant toolboxes on wheels, they are primarily designed for technical rescue situations such as auto accidents, rope rescues, swiftwater rescues, or collapses.
NFPA (National Fire Protection Association in the U.S.) regulation 1006 and 1670 give guidelines and regulations for the operation of heavy rescue vehicles and also state that all "rescuers" must have medical training to perform any technical rescue operation, including cutting the vehicle itself. In most rescue environments, fire department personnel conduct rescue operations working hand-in-hand with medical personnel such as EMT or paramedics.
In addition to fire brigades and rescue departments, e.g. tram or railway companies may have their own heavy rescue squads specialized to tram or train accidents . For example, railway rescue squads may carry very specialized equipment for railway accidents like hydraulic jacks with capacity for lifting locomotives or even move them horizontally, and equipment for tank car accidents .

Hazardous Materials Appliances

Some fire departments keep special appliances for dealing with hazardous materials, or "HazMat". These are of several types, from those used to clean spilled oil on streets and highways, to full decontamination units, designed to clean victims and rescuers of contaminants after an incident.

Logistical Support Appliances

Many fire departments operate a number of vehicles in specialised logistical functions. These can be stand alone vehicles, or may be modular, such as with the use of a 'hookloader' system
Sometimes hookloaders are used 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. 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.


Some fire companies that protect a body of water, such as a major city harbor, may utilize fireboats to combat fires on watercraft and waterfront areas.


Fire companies may also employ airplanes and helicopters to attack fire from the air. Such aircraft are fitted with large water tanks that drop water onto the fire.

Other apparatus

Other fire apparatus include:

Other functions

In some communities a fire apparatus, often a paramedic engine, will be used to carry first responder 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 . This sometimes puzzles people who see a fire apparatus race past but do not see any fire, but medical calls often outnumber fire calls for such departments. Fire departments may also have lifeguards in places like Los Angeles County, CA.

Design and construction

Many fire appliances around the world are based on standard truck or lorry models, which are upgraded to the specifications required by the purchasing department. In the United States, a majority of fire trucks are specially designed from the chassis to the cab and body. This has led to the use of the term custom fire truck, as opposed to a commercial chassis and cab.
Modifications a fire appliance might undergo include adjustments for higher durability, removal of any speed limiter, and adjustments for long periods of idling at a higher temperature. This may be accomplished by heavy duty suspensions, brakes, tires, alternator, transmission and cooling systems. It is also usual to upgrade the capacity of the electrics of the vehicle, in order to accommodate the use of additional electrical and electronic equipment.
Fire appliances have audible and visual warnings, to protect themselves from traffic, and make themselves seen to other units at an incident.
In many countries, use of the audible and visual warnings affords the driver a degree of exemption from road traffic laws (such as the right to exceed speed limits, treat red stop lights as give way etc.) and may also infer a duty on other motorists to move out of the direction of passage of the fire vehicle (or face possible prosecution).

Visual warnings

Visual warnings on a fire appliance can be of two types - either passive or active.

Passive visual warnings

The passive visual warnings involve the use of high contrast patterns. Older vehicles (and those in developing countries) are more likely to have their patterns painted on, whereas modern appliances often carry retro-reflective designs which reflect light from car headlights or torches. Patterns include 'checker board' (alternate coloured squares, sometimes called 'battenburg markings', named after a type of cake), chevrons (arrowheads - often pointed towards the front of the vehicle if on the side, or pointing vertically upwards if on the rear) or stripes (along the side - these were the first type or retro-reflective devices introduced, as the original retro-reflective material came only in tape form). In some countries, in addition to retro-reflective markings, vehicles are now painted a bright yellow or orange, although in many other countries, red remains the colour for fire engines.
Another passive marking is the word FIRE, RESCUE or local language variant spelled out in reverse on the front of the vehicle. This enables drivers of other vehicles to more easily identify an approaching fire service vehicle in their rear view mirrors. The appliance may also display a telephone number which may be used to summon assistance, along with the name of the operating department or station identifier.

Active visual warnings

The active visual warnings are usually in the form of flashing coloured lights (also known as 'beacons' or 'lightbars'). These flash in order to attract the attention of other road users as the fire appliance approaches, or to provide warning to motorists approaching a stopped appliance in a dangerous position on the road. Common colours for fire warning beacons are blue and red. The beacons can be made to flash, the original method was to place a spinning mirror which moves around a light bulb, called a 'rotating beacon'. More modern methods include the use of strobe lights, which are usually brighter, and can be programmed to produce specific patterns (such as a left -> right pattern when parked on the left hand side of the road, indicating to other road users that they should move out away from the vehicle). There is also the more widespread use of LED flashing lights as they are low profile and low energy. More information on Emergency vehicle equipment.

Audible warnings

In addition to visual warnings, most appliances are also fitted with audible warnings, sometimes known as sirens, which can alert people and vehicles to the presence of an emergency vehicle before they can be seen. The first audible warnings were mechanical bells, mounted to either the front or roof of the truck. Most vehicles are now fitted with electronic sirens, which can produce a range of different noises. Fire service driving training often includes the use of different noises depending on traffic conditions and manoeuvre being performed. For instance, on a clear road, approaching a junction, the 'wail' setting may be used, which gives a long up and down variation, with an unbroken tone, whereas, in heavy slow traffic, a 'yelp' setting may be preferred, which is like a wail, but sped up. The speakers for modern sirens can be located in several places on the vehicle, including being integral to the lightbar, or hidden in the grille. Some vehicles may also be fitted with airhorn audible warnings.
A development is the use of the RDS system of car radios, whereby the vehicle can be fitted with a short range FM transmitter, set to RDS code 31, which interrupts the radio of all cars within range, in the manner of a traffic broadcast, but in such a way that the user of the receiving radio is unable to opt out of the message (as with traffic broadcasts). This feature is built in to all RDS radios for use in national emergency broadcast systems, but short range units on emergency vehicles can prove an effective means of alerting traffic to their presence, although is not able to alert pedestrians and non-RDS radio users.

Additional equipment

Firefighters may also have a range of additional equipment available to them, which may include:
  • Two Way Radio - One of the most important pieces of equipment. Many services have moved from traditional UHF/VHF sets, which can be monitored externally, to more secure systems, such as those working on a GSM system, such as TETRA
  • Mobile Data Terminal - Many appliances are fitted with Mobile Data Terminals (or MDTs), which are connected wirelessly to a central computer, and enable firefighters to call up details such as incident logs, maps of locations or exclusion zones.
  • Evidence gathering CCTV - Some fire vehicles can be fitted with video cameras used to record activity. They may also be fitted with sound recording facilities. This is used for the protection of the crew (and evidence of any assaults or intimidation of the firefighters) or can be used as evidence relating to the incident itself.
  • Ramming pads - These rubberised pads are fitted to the chassis of the appliance, to allow the vehicle to be used as a battering ram, or to push other vehicles off the road in an emergency.

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 . Since firefighting takes places in a very hot and hostile environment with high risks, fire fighters work as pairs, and at least one more pair of firefighters is needed on scene for the safety and shifting.
In the United Kingdom, firefighters are arranged in fire and rescue services - historically known as brigades, and usually organised at county, city or combined level. These are divided into either commands or areas, in some cases divisions, then stations, which range in size but in almost every instance have at least one pumping appliance. In addition, general purpose engine stations may have specialist vehicles such as turntable ladders, hydraulic platforms, foam tenders, etc. The number of personnel at a station varies depending on the number of applainces, and whether it is full time, day manned or retained. Generally, the crew of an average sized pump is around 5, but in any case it can be no less than four and no more than six.
In cities of 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 suburban and rural areas of the United States, the legal organization to which volunteers belong is usually called a company; one company may operate several pieces of apparatus. Duties of volunteers are often less specialized than those of city firefighters, because it is less predictable who will be available for a given emergency, so more flexibility is needed.
In New Zealand the standard crew consists of four - the OIC, driver and two others. They are numbered OIC,1,2 and 3, with the OIC in the front passengers seat and number 1 directly behind them. number 3 is the driver. The crew has specific tasks in a water drill, decided by where they are sitting. At call-outs, there may be five on an appliance, but only four have allotted tasks with the fifth person being spare.


Ctesibius of Alexandria is credited with inventing the first fire pump around the second century B.C., and an example of a force-pump possible used for a fire-engine is mentioned by Heron of Alexandria. 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 feet [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 during fires at night. These buckets were intended for use by 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, Newsham, 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. John Braithwaite built the first steam fire-engine in Britain.
Until the mid-19th 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 20th 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. This arrangement was 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 seating areas 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 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

Since the late 19th century, means of reaching 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 wheels. When carried by fire engines these ladders had the wheels suspended behind the rear of the vehicle, making them a distinctive sight.
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 feet (45 metres), requiring the aforementioned "tiller trucks" to carry such ladders.
After the Second World War turntable ladders were supplemented by the aerial work platform (sometimes called 'cherry picker'), a platform or bucket attached onto a mechanically-bending arm (or "snorkel") installed onto a fire truck. While these could not reach the height of similar turntable ladders, the platforms could extend into previously unreachable "dead corners" of a burning building.


Pegaso 7217 truck in Santiago de Compostela. DelGro Fast Response Light Fire Attack Vehicle (LFAV), Singapore Civil Defence Force turntable ladder in Kronach/Germany /JDC


See also

pumper in Danish: Brandbil
pumper in German: Feuerwehrfahrzeug
pumper in Spanish: Coche de bomberos
pumper in French: Fourgon d'incendie
pumper in Galician: Coche de bombeiros
pumper in Croatian: Vatrogasna vozila
pumper in Lithuanian: Gaisrinis automobilis
pumper in Dutch: Brandweervoertuig
pumper in Japanese: 消防車
pumper in Norwegian: Brannbil
pumper in Polish: Samochód pożarniczy
pumper in Russian: Пожарный автомобиль
pumper in Finnish: Paloauto
pumper in Swedish: Brandbil
pumper in Vietnamese: Xe cứu hoả
pumper in Yiddish: פייער ענדזשין
pumper in Chinese: 消防車
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