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Types Of Fire Trucks: An Evolution In Combating Fire

by Jordan Harris
Types Of Fire Trucks

Blazing lights, blaring sirens, and a huge cascade of water are just but a few characteristics synonymous with modern-day fire-fighting trucks. Additionally, the super large size and the red-colored fire trucks are always the ultimate indicators of a fire scene. This article delves into the origin, evolution, and the different types of fire trucks that exist in the modern world.

Every once in a while, a new technology, an old problem, and a big idea turn into an innovation. What started as a mere water pump placed on wagon wheels has now transformed into a complete truck. The truck has essential firefighting equipment with the ability to offer a quick response in case of a fire outbreak.

However, there are two conflicting terms here, “fire truck” and “fire engine”. These terms are often used interchangeably with the firefighting vehicle.

This has sparked a big debate. Some quotes come up with clear distinctions while others still perceive it as one single fire apparatus altogether. The big question is, are fire engines the same as fire trucks? If not, then what are the main distinctive characteristics?

Contents of this article include;

Fire Truck Vs Fire Engine

Many times, whenever there is a fire outbreak, be it in residential areas, commercial premises, or even public social gathering areas like churches and schools, one thing is definite for sure.

A large red-colored vehicle with blaring sirens, constantly honking its horns and moving very fast, will be spotted at the scene of the fire. Then you may be kept wondering what kind of fire apparatus is it likely to be. “A fire truck or a fire engine?”

Well, both are specialized firefighting equipment that helps the firefighting departments all over the world. They help firefighters to offer fire protection services, but they do perform different functions altogether.

Fire Engine

For quite a long time, the word “engine” about fire fighting has been used to mean a pump. A pump is one of the basic tools that aid in getting water supply at a fire scene.

Due to language growth, the term has metamorphosed into “fire engine”. This refers to a fire rescue vehicle that can pump a large amount of water to fire from a tank.

Fire engines are probably the first vehicles that do arrive at a fire scene in case of a fire or explosion.


It consists of a water tank, a water pump, powerful hoses, some nozzles, and several apparatuses that aid the nozzles to function properly to help bring raging fires under control.

The tank is often full of several liters of water, which help to extinguish the fire.

Fire Truck

A fire truck is a vehicle that helps to ferry firefighting apparatus and the team of firefighters from their station to the fire scene.

These firefighting apparatus may include ground ladders, aerial ladders, fire protection gear and first aid equipment, or oxygen-breathing apparatus like a snorkel to help offer aid to fire victims.

The basic function of a fire engine is to extinguish the fire using water while the fire truck is a rescue operation vehicle. Its focus is on rescuing people from the fire scene, save lives, offer ventilation, and provide first aid medical treatment.

In case of a fire outbreak. A fire engine is always the first to arrive at a fire scene. It is then followed closely by a fire truck.  The fire truck carries emergency apparatus like breathing masks, chainsaws, fans, and strong floodlights.

This extra protection is necessary since fire outbreaks and explosions are always unforeseen and come out abruptly. In this case, there could be human beings trapped inside the buildings and may need emergency first aid services and safe evacuation.

The History Of The Fire Truck

Fire outbreaks and the need for mankind to protect themselves against unprecedented fire explosions are something that started a long time ago with the advent of human civilization.

Communities thought of coming up with organized ways to guard themselves against unforeseeable fire outbreaks.

With the rapid increase in population in both rural and urban areas during the American colonization, settlements became densely packed, and this sparked the need to set up measures and strategies that can help in fire protection and save settlements from getting destroyed by accidental fire outbreaks.

Water Pumps On Wagon Wheel

Water pumps on wagon wheels were the first-ever firefighting apparatus to ever exist in the advent of human civilization. It comprised of a pump that was mounted on wooden chassis. It also had a large lever linked to this framework, where firefighters could rest their feet.

Despite pumps existing even during ancient Roman times, they proved difficult to use in fire extinguishing missions. This is because ancient pipes just spurted water instead of spraying.

This posed a major challenge in fire extinguishing, as they could not provide adequate water. The water pump on wagons was also used in Europe as an apparatus to help put accidental fires under control.

Horse Drawn Pumpers

Soon enough, because of the inefficiencies with the water pump on wagon wheels, there was the need for improvement to make the machine more responsive, hence horse-driven steam pumpers replaced the pump on the wagon.

A group of horses was used to pull large steam trucks to pump water at fire scenes in the presence of three to four people who were present at the fire scene to operate the pump. This happened from the 1840s until after World War I, especially in America.

Gasoline Engine

With time, the settlements became larger because of population increase and more complex building setups were starting to exist. Hence, the horse-drawn pampers had become inefficient. Then soon the gasoline engines took over from the horse-driven pampers after World War I in the 1920s.

Gasoline seemed more economical, more efficient, and faster than steam. The water pumps were much better and able to create a powerful pressure to spray water that could aid in extinguishing fire much easier, even on elevated buildings that had started emerging in Europe and America.

Modern Fire Trucks

Modern-day trucks are more sophisticated than the ancient method used to control fires. This is to make it more responsive and meet the demands of the growing technology that has led to the growth of cities with very tall buildings.

This means the fire protection services must also be able to cope. This is the reason why ladder trucks were created in the first half of the twentieth century.

The ladder trucks were created because American cities were both growing rapidly both upwards and outwards and one of the defining factors was the skyscrapers.

The American firefighting department felt the need for more advanced firefighting apparatus that could even be effective in very tall buildings, and this influenced the need for ladder trucks.

The milestone that led to the introduction of ladders in firefighting was the development of the “Hayes Ladder” that completely seemed unique and made the job much easier.

The ladder could be mounted on a truck using a spring mechanism that enabled elevating the ladder on tall buildings.

This means, the firefighters could easily rescue people through windows of very tall buildings and could enter the buildings very high up.

It became very popular in America and firefighting trucks packaged with a ladder became a norm. Since then, the idea has so far been carried to the 21st century, resulting in many similar modern-day firefighting trucks.

Different Types Of Fire Trucks

Firefighting technology has gone through major milestones that have resulted in a continued transformation in recent years.

Several improvements have taken place that has led to the modern sophisticated firefighting trucks we see today across the cities.

Some trucks that were used before still exist to date while others are gradually getting phased out. Some of the firefighting trucks which still exist today include;

Conventional Truck

These are the most common types of fire trucks, with an engine uniquely designed for firefighting operations. The truck carries firefighters and rescue equipment to the scene of the fire. A load of tools carried will depend on the terrain where the rescue operation is going to take place.

Each terrain has specific apparatus to be used. But the most common equipment that will never be missed in a conventional firefighting truck include;

  • Fire extinguishers
  • Ladders
  • Breathing apparatus
  • Hydraulic rescue tools
  • Thermal imaging camera
  • Floodlights
  • Ventilation apparatus
  • First aid boxes
  • Specialized firefighting attire
  • Hoses

There are different types of conventional firefighting trucks. Some have fixed deluge guns, also called the ‘master stream’. The purpose of the gun is to release large stream of water to the particular direction where the gun is directed.

When the water in it runs out, the gun is connected to any nearby permanent source of water, such as fire hydrants or water tenders

Pumper Truck

Pumper trucks are the most commonly used type of fire trucks by the firefighting department and are named ‘triple combination pumpers’. They resemble the wagon and are fitted with the hose’s body, fire pump, and water tank.

A pumper is always seen at any fire scene where it aids the firefighters with important tools to help contain the fire and also save victims.

Turntable Ladder Truck

A turntable ladder truck is a piece of aerial firefighting equipment with a large telescopic ladder that helps access areas of greater height.

The name turntable is a good fit for this firefighting truck because it has a turntable mounted on the back of the truck, which mounts the telescopic ladder.

The turntable is to enables the ladder to pivot, making it possible to spray water in different directions.

Most modern turntable ladders types of fire trucks come packaged with an inbuilt water function with piped waterways that extend along the ladder while others consist of inbuilt water storage tanks.

They also come with added functions and apparatus such as an aerial ladder, an inbuilt pump, a fire hose, and a quad.

Heavy Rescue Vehicle

This type of fire truck does exactly what its name suggests. It is used for heavy rescue operations in a fire scene. It’s also known as the ‘rescue squad’ in some street lingo.

It is not only seen in fire rescue operations, but its presence is also important in serious road accidents, swift water rescue operations, and building collapse sites.

Tiller Truck

Tiller trucks are specialized types of fire trucks that consist of a turntable ladder mounted on a semi-trailer truck. It has hybrid characteristics that use both trailer and truck features.

A unique feature of this truck is that it has two drivers operating it. One on the rear steering wheel and the other on the front steering wheel.

The two control centers enable the truck to maneuver efficiently, which is one of its unique features. The result is that it can make sharp turns in narrow streets.

The tiller truck has an estimated length of 50 feet, which sets aside ample space to accommodate more firefighting tools and equipment.

A variation of the tiller truck is the tiller quit, which is an improvised version of the tiller truck. The tiller quit has an onboard water reservoir mounted on the main vehicle.

Wild Land Fire Truck

Wildland fire trucks are types of fire trucks that are designed with the powerful ability to maneuver through rough geographic terrain, challenging terrain coupled with high suspension clearance.

These types of fire trucks are ideal and helpful in combating fire in difficult hills and mountains. This is possible because they are designed with a four-wheel-drive mechanism which is very efficient with rough geographic terrains.

Additionally, the wildland fire truck is capable of pumping water even when in motion. This is a unique ability that separates it from the conventional types of fire trucks we talked about earlier. This gives the wildland fire truck the ability to deal with vegetation fires to prevent rapid spread.

Vegetation fires are characterized by rapid spread within a short time and, if not contained or brought under control immediately. This can lead to the destruction of plants, crops, and trees in a vast area within a very short time.

The wildland fire truck comes out as the most ideal in combating fire in such situations where accessibility can be hindered due to rough terrain which other trucks cannot maneuver.


Quints are types of fire trucks that are often very difficult to understand. They have got a lot of controversies attached to them in that they perform a lot of functions, including some meant for the fire engine.

It is a universal type of fire truck. It is designed to perform a multitasking role in combating abrupt fires. The truck has a pump and an aerial device within a single vehicle. This enables it to perform several functions, which include;

  • Providing master stream to firefighters, including pumps and hosed that are mounted on it.
  • Giving access to the elevated area with the help of the mounted aerial devices.
  • It has ground ladders that can be used to access lower areas.
  • It ensures a continuous supply of water through its water tanks and pumps.


A-Wagon is the type of fire truck that is also referred to as ‘hazardous materials apparatus’ in some kind of street lingo. Their main application is to help in fighting bush and grass fires.

The unique name comes into mind when the A-Wagon fire fighting truck is mentioned because, in the past, this truck had two separate auxiliary motors which could release water from a pump. This gave it the ability to pump water even when in motion.

Water Tender

Water tenders are types of fire trucks that perform the task of mobile water supply fire-fighting apparatus. They are tasked with the role of picking, transporting, and delivering water to areas hit by fire emergency operations, but have a limited water supply.

These types of fire trucks have the basic simple design of a water carrier vehicle in that they don’t have a pump mounted on them. They only perform the water supply function.

Water tenders are not meant for off-road use because they are two-wheeled types of fire trucks and are operated by one or two firefighters instead of a crew.

Main Components Of A Fire Truck

Apart from the red bright color that covers a fire-fighting truck, the elevated ladders mounted on the main compartment of the vehicle, water pumps that aid in generating constant sprays of water, other functional components are found inside the fire fighting truck.

The simple but huge vehicle has other key internal components that cannot be seen from the outside look unless you get a chance to get inside, but are extremely vital to the whole rescue operation mission since they perform very crucial functions to ensure the whole process runs smoothly.

These most basic vital components of a complete fire fighting truck include;

Gripped Steps

Every fire truck has a series of gripped steps that allow firefighters to move around the vehicle with ease and convenience.

Flood Lights

These are high-intensity artificial lights that provide a great source of illumination, especially during the night when there is a fire scene in the dark.

Reference Book

Most fire trucks are equipped with reference books on firefighting that firefighters can take help from, or refer to in times of confusion or when they want to make sure of something.

It’s often said learning never stops, and no human knows everything. So even the firefighters have to constantly keep combing their skills all the time.

Ventilator Fans

As the name suggests, these are used at the fire scenes to circulate air and provide adequate ventilation to fire victims. They create a movement of the air to disperse fumes from the fire.

Aerial Ladder

This is crucial for commercial fires where they can reach up to 105 feet. It often comes with a master stream hose and the ladder is raised towards the building with the help of a hydraulic piston rod.


These are large, flexible hollow tubes that are mounted on the top of the fire trucks and can release a thousand gallons of water per minute.

Pump Panel

The pump panel is another essential firefighting rescue operation apparatus that helps control or restrain the flow and pressure of the water-spraying hoses.

The firefighters always go through rigorous practice to be able to operate the pump panels efficiently and effectively.

Air Tank

These are generally portable, easy-to-use units that allow you to store in compressed air, which is much-needed, especially at a fire scene.

Firefighters can also fill these tanks with breathable gases that can provide immediate aid to the fire victims.

Radio System

Radio systems are one of the most essential pieces of public safety equipment. These are inbuilt within the fire truck vehicle and are used to communicate with the backend team at the main fire department.

Types Of Fire Trucks – Conclusion

The most common fire department vehicle you’ll see is a fire engine. Engines are different from trucks (carrying long ladders), ambulances (for transporting people to hospitals), and other vehicles.

A fire engine typically carries firefighters to a fire scene or emergency. The engine often has three key components onboard: hoses, a tank that holds water, and a pump that supplies the hoses with water. This type of fire engine is called a “Triple Combination Engine” or “Triple” in short.

Typical modern types of fire trucks will carry tools for a wide range of firefighting and rescue tasks, with common equipment, including ladders, self-contained breathing apparatus, ventilating equipment, first aid kits, and hydraulic rescue tools.

A fire truck is typically the long aerial ladder truck you see on the way to a large fire or certain types of medical emergencies. For certain medical emergencies, more firefighters are needed to assist, which is why you sometimes see trucks or engines in addition to an ambulance at the scene of a medical incident.

Firefighters every day and in every place find their way to serve the community. With the different types of fire engines and fire trucks, there is plenty to choose from. No matter what the drive, saving lives and protecting the community is always the result.

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