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Different types of Firetruck

Firetruck rushing to an emergency scene

Firetruck rushing to an emergency scene


When you hear a siren, you think it's either a cop, and ambulance, or a firetruck trying to make its way through traffic to assist someone in an emergency. The latter has a lot of different categories that each have a different role in putting a fire out. They all assist the putting out of a fire, or rescuing someone that is trapped, but what defines their role is what the vehicle is carrying. Every vehicle requires different qualifications, for example if you want to be a basic firefighter and ride the engine, you need to take Firefighter I, but to ride or drive other pieces of equipment, you need more classes. The most basic fire apparatus include fire engines, ladders, trucks, utilities, and brush units.

This is a fire engine. You can tell by its hoses on the side and the water dripping from under it.

This is a fire engine. You can tell by its hoses on the side and the water dripping from under it.

These are supply hoses used to supply water from the hydrant to the engine.

These are supply hoses used to supply water from the hydrant to the engine.

Fire engines and their uses

The fire engine is the main apparatus used to put fires out. Although its main capability is shooting water into a fire, it can also be used in medical calls that do not require transportation to a local hospital, such as non-emergencies. If an engine is called for medic support, the firefighters riding the engine will be EMT's (Emergency Medical Technicians) as well. The main characteristic of fire engines is that the have a pump that shoots out water and has a reservoir, or a tank, in the back of the engine. The reservoir allows for the engine to shoot out water when a fire hydrant is not nearby, yet it can only work for a limited period of time as they can only carry from 500 to 1500 gallons of water, and water going out at 120 pounds per square inch, they only have from about 4 minutes to 15 minutes depending on the amount of water held. Usually fire engines from big cities hold less water for 2 reasons. First, because a big reservoir would not fit in the smaller streets of a big city, and second because in the city there will always be hydrants available to pump water from. If a hydrant is present, the first arriving engine can connect what's called a hydrant gate in order to start pumping water through the engine. On a typical working fire box for a regular-sized house, there are at least 4 different engines called to the scene, and hydrant availability is taken into consideration while calling the different fire companies.

Ladder truck

Ladder truck

Ladder truck with ladder extended

Ladder truck with ladder extended

Fire trucks and ladders

Fire trucks and ladder trucks are often confused because a ladder truck is a truck, but a truck is not a ladder unit. Because they are quite expensive, not all fire companies own a ladder truck. What makes the difference between the two is the huge hydraulic ladder on top of the truck. Ladder companies are usually called for rescue operations and tall building/warehouse fires. From now on, I will refer to both trucks and ladders simply by truck. Trucks do not hold water in a tank, if they do then they are engines. They are usually used to perform rescue missions for a victim inside the blaze, serve as a RIT (Rapid Intervention Team), which is when a firefighter becomes trapped inside the house, and overhaul, which is when the fire is over, every wall is torn down and ceilings are also destroyed in order to check if the fire is in fact completely out. The main job of fire trucks are to carry the tools to assist firefighters, such as axes, halligan bars, pike poles, and the most famous, Jaws of Life. The Jaws of life is only a brand name, they are actually called hydraulic spreaders and hydraulic cutters. Most trucks have a hydraulic pump to serve for usage of such a tool, and in ladder trucks they are also used to adjust their tall ladders.

A utility truck sitting in an engine bay.

A utility truck sitting in an engine bay.

A brush unit

A brush unit

Utility trucks and brush units

Firetrucks are big and bulky when it comes to brush fires. A brush fire is a rather small fire in the woods. Since big firetrucks cannot go through the tree line, fire companies use a pickup truck as their utility truck and brush unit so they can travel through the woods easily. The main difference between the two is that the brush unit has a pump attached to it with a small reservoir usually containing anywhere from 50 to 300 gallons of water. With this in consideration, and also the fact that when fighting a fire in the woods, you are actually closer to the fire itself, brush units use a smaller type of hose with a lower pressure. Utility trucks can be used for non-emergency medic calls and small kitchen fires, usually calls that can be terminated with a fire extinguisher. It can be used to carry wounded people out of the woods to the road where they can transfer the patient to an ambulance. Utility trucks carry a smaller version of most tools, not including hydraulic tools.

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Firetruck types in a nutshell

Type of TruckUsageUnique CharacteristicsTypical house fire dispatch amount


Shoot water directly in the fire in order to put it out

Has a pump for water and a tank to hold some extra water in case there is no hydrant

4 sides of a house= 4 engines called


Carry heavy tools such as hydraulic spreaders (Jaws of Life) and car fire support

Hydraulic pump and heavy tools to cut into cars or houses

4 sides= 2 trucks

Ladder truck

Rescue missions and tall building/ warehouse fires

Big ~100 foot hydraulic ladder

4 sides= 1 ladder truck

Utility Truck

Small kitchen fires; able to use fire extinguisher

Pickup truck in order to be more maneuverable

Small kitchen fire=1 utility truck

Brush truck

Small brush fire control and termination

Small pump in the back of the pickup truck

Small brush fire= 2 brush units

Test your newly acquired knowledge!

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What do engines and trucks have in contrast?
    • Engines can be called for a medic call but not trucks
    • Engines have a pump to shoot water but not trucks
  2. Why do fire companies use brush units?
    • Because regular firetrucks are too big to travel through the woods
    • Because brush units have less water in their tanks
  3. True or false: Utility trucks have a hydraulic pump.
    • True
    • False

Answer Key

  1. Engines have a pump to shoot water but not trucks
  2. Because regular firetrucks are too big to travel through the woods
  3. False

Move out of the way!

Now when you hear the sound of a firetruck, you will know how to differentiate one from another and whenever you see one passing by, you can guess the kind of call received for the kind of support it sends. A fire engine cannot put out a fire by itself, it must be supported by trucks and ladders. Most fire companies, both career and volunteer, also have an ambulance at their disposition, so Emergency Medical Technicians can ride to go to calls whenever someone is having a heart attack or such. Thank you for reading and please leave some feedback on how I can improve my writing.


Eddie on February 29, 2016:

Take about more fire tucks

Matt on February 07, 2015:

Your comment on trucks do not carry water Is false.. Only a true truck will not carry water.. A quint carries water and has a pump and can run as an engine but normally will run as a truck company. Same setup as a true truck plus a pump tank and hose.. Plus I would add all the other types like quads, squads, squirts, telesquirts, towers, snorkels, tillers, stuff like that

Writer Fox from the wadi near the little river on October 27, 2013:

I never knew that there were so many different kinds of firetrucks. Congratulations on your Rising Star nomination!

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