Firefighting is a dangerous occupation, and firefighters rely on a wide range of vehicles to get the job done. There are five basic categories of fire vehicles: aerial units (not to be confused with aerial trucks), aquatic, fire engines (the trucks that actually put out fires), fire trucks, and ladder trucks.
The term fire truck is defined as an auxiliary vehicle primarily used for rescue, while a fire engine is a vehicle with a pump and reservoir for putting out fires. Ladder trucks are a special category of vehicles that can also fit into fire engines or fire trucks and describe vehicles with ladders for reaching high places.
That said, let’s take a look at 12 different types of fire trucks, including ladder trucks that fit into this category.
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Types of Fire Trucks
1. Brush Truck
These small vehicles look just like the utility trucks a contractor might use, except they contain an onboard pump for fighting brush fires. They’re smaller than A-wagons but fill a similar role.
In addition, brush units can often handle more rugged terrain than larger vehicles.
2. Conventional Fire Truck
These are the most common form of fire truck you’ll find at the scene of a fire and carry a wide range of support tools, as well as firefighters. Tools you might find on a conventional truck may include hoses, axes, breathing apparatuses, fire extinguishers, thermal imaging cameras, floodlights, and hydraulic rescue tools such as the Jaws of Life.
Depending on the size of vehicle used, this type of truck may be used in urban settings or be able to handle more rugged terrain. In addition, many carry a limited supply of water to assist fire engines, and some even have a fixed deluge gun to aid the more powerful engines in putting out fires.
3. Heavy Rescue Vehicle
These fire trucks are special utility vehicles equipped with equipment used for a range of complex rescue missions. They’re not only seen at fires but are often deployed at the scene of traffic accidents, building collapses, and swift water flood sites.
While not equipped for firefighting, the tools carried by heavy rescue vehicles allow firefighters to perform tasks that no other fire truck or engine can.
4. Ladder Truck
As mentioned, ladder trucks may be considered their own category or fit into fire engine and/or fire truck categories. Often referred to as aerial trucks, these vehicles have a top-mounted ladder that can be elevated to reach higher spaces than a ground ladder.
In many cases, the ladders are telescopic, further improving their range. Smaller types of ladder trucks may lack an aerial ladder and instead carry multiple ground ladders and equipment to the scene.
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Quints are a controversial type of fire truck because they function as the jack-of-all-trades in firefighting. As the name implies, they’re designed to cover five different functions. They must fit a specific set of qualifiers that were first defined as far back as 1901. These include:
- 300+ gallon capacity water tank
- 1,000 gallon-per-minute or better fire pump
- Aerial ladder or elevating platform with permanent waterway
- Enclosed equipment storage compartments measuring at least 40 cubic feet
- Minimum of 15 feet of soft suction hose or 20 feet or hard suction hose.
- Minimum of 85 feet of ground ladders, including at least two extension ladders, an attic ladder, and a roof ladder.
- Two hose storage areas for at least 30 cubic feet of hose, each having a minimum of 2.5-inch or larger size and containing a minimum of 3.5 cubic feet or a 1.5 inch or pre-connected hose line.
What makes these vehicles so controversial is the factual complaint laid out by Wyoming, Ohio fire chief Robert Rielage in 2009:
“The modern quint … has been described by some as a fire truck designed by a city manager who thought four firefighters could do all the work of both an engine and ladder crew from a single apparatus.”
While the small crew is indeed a problem, quints have a continued place in firefighting due to their ability to fill multiple roles in a low-budget department, provide an elevated master stream or aerial support, and traverse roads and bridges that other fire vehicles are too heavy for.
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6. Tiller Truck
Similar to a turntable ladder truck, these specialized ladder trucks separate the cab from a semi-trailer. The ladder and turntable are affixed to the trailer section, allowing an even greater range of maneuverability.
The cab and trailer sections have separate steering, each manned by a driver. As a result, the two can turn independently of one another, allowing the truck to make hairpin turns and travel down narrow streets.
Because of the extra mobility, tiller trucks often exceed 50 feet in length, allowing them to carry additional tools and equipment.
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This hybrid vehicle is essentially a tiller truck that has an onboard water tank fitted into the cab section. The resulting vehicle has the additional ability to fight fires, although it may not carry as wide a range of equipment as a standard tiller truck.
8. Triple Combination Pumper
Often simply referred to as pumper trucks, these are a combination of fire truck and fire engine. They have onboard water tanks, large cabins for carrying firefighters, fire pumps, and extra hoses.
Because of their multiple functions, they’re useful in both rescue and firefighting, making them a common sight in smaller fire departments.
9. Turntable Ladder Truck
This specialized ladder truck is fitted with a turntable at the back, allowing the ladder not only to be raised and extended but to pivot, making it easier to aim the bucket for firefighting or rescue operations.
Modern turntable trucks often have a built-in reservoir and can pump water all the way up the ladder to a deluge gun affixed to the bucket. Depending on the model, they may also carry additional apparatus, such as onboard water pumps or additional ladders.
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10. Utility Truck
Chances are, you’ve seen pickup trucks driving around with fire department markings. These are the most common example of a utility truck.
Urban and rural fire departments use these trucks to handle non-emergency calls and handle small kitchen or vehicle fires that can be addressed using a fire extinguisher.
They can also be used to carry hydraulic equipment or transport injured people from places an ambulance can’t reach.
Another advantage of utility trucks is that firefighters can hitch trailer units to them. These units may include an auxiliary pump, a boat trailer for water rescue, or an equipment storage trailer.
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11. Water Tender
As the name implies, these special fire trucks are designed to carry large amounts of water to the scene. However, they’re operated by only one or two firefighters and rarely have an onboard pump as they’re meant to supply fire engines.
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12. Wildland Fire Engine
This combination fire engine and fire truck is designed to handle difficult terrain that most other fire vehicles wouldn’t be able to cover. They have a higher ground clearance and improved suspension, often accompanied by four-wheel drive. This allows them to handle fires on hillsides or mountains.
One of the special functions of these fire trucks is to combat wildfires. Because they can pump water while on the move, they can make strafing runs on vegetation fires, which are notorious for spreading quickly.
They also often carry equipment for thinning out vegetation to prevent potential wildfires from spreading.