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As of June 28, 2016

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- Glossary -- Its Not a Fire Truck!-- What Firefighters Really Do -- History -
- EMS and The Fire Service -- Ranks and Organization -
- Hiring Process & Training -- Working With the Media -- Tips For Reporters -
- FAQ's & Trivia -- Articles and Stories -- U.S. Flag Code & Customs -- Contact -
Website Author's Bio/Linkedin Page

Contents Copyright© 2011 by the various contributors.
Click here for use guidelines.

Fire Service FAQs and Much More
Don't forget our Q and A page.
Is there any truth to the belief that the full moon makes busier nights for
emergency workers or hospital ERs?

This site is not associated with, nor does it represent the views of any particular fire department.

Basic Glossary Of Fire Fighting
and Rescue Terms

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Check out the new
EMS Slang Glossary
for more interesting terms.

 Firefighter Wallet made from Old Fire Hose.











The "Bugle" or Speaking Trumpet is a traditional symbol of rank in the fire service.
Now you can own one for a reasobable price.































Cast Iron
Maltese Cross Wall Plaque


14K Gold Maltese Cross Charm 






As you view this page, always keep something in mind. Fire service terms vary greatly from place to place. No doubt you will read terms here you have never seen. There are more than five different names for a stand-by fire rescue crew. What one department calls a "Halligan" another may call a "Hooligan Tool" and another may refer to the same piece of equipment as a "Pro Tool". Young or new firefighters also tend to believe that their department's way or terminology is the only way, or that their department invented the term. (Of course sometimes they do.) Resident's of community's will also believe that their fire department represents all fire departments and has the same terminology, practices or traditions as those across the country. Nothing could be further from the truth. People email us all the time about an emblem on a badge, they have seen or they ask, "Why do all fire departments...?" If you can't find examples on the internet, it might mean that your question is about a local tradition or term. The best advice given might be, "Ask the fire department that uses the term."

NOTE: Even though we have traveled to many fire departments and communicated with hundreds of fire service people, all over the world, we will undoubtedly omit terms and traditions. If you have a question or know of something we have left out, please help me make this site more accurate by letting us know.

Can't find what you are looking for here?
Be sure to try our Q & A / Trivia page or the new EMS Glossary page.

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A-Wagon- This is another all purpose, regional, term. Often this is applied to vehicles designed to fight grass or brush fires. Although some departments may use this term to describe hazardous materials apparatus. In these cases they can pump foam or other specialized agents for the control of particular types of fires. The name comes from the fact that these vehicles, in the past, had an entirely separate “Auxiliary” motor that ran the pump. This allowed these vehicles to pump and roll at the same time. Modern fire apparatus pumps get their power from the vehicle’s engine. The transfer case forces you to choose between rolling down the road or supplying the pump with power. The word "auxiliary" simply means "a separate, support piece of equipment." This might be an application of the term for some departments.

Aerial Truck - Also known as a ladder truck, aerial ladder, or just plain truck.  A hydraulically powered ladder or articulating platform, mounted on a vehicle that also carries several different length extension ladders, and possibly extrication gear, ventilation equipment, and lighting  Some trucks can reach as high as 200 feet! See Truck.

Apparatus- Any vehicle that serves a specific function other than just transportation of people. Engines, Trucks, and MICU’s are examples of apparatus. A chief’s vehicle is generally NOT considered apparatus although some departments may refer to it as such.

Air Pack - A Self Contained Breathing Apparatus. See (SCBA)

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Backdraft - Term applied to the explosion caused by the sudden inward rush of oxygen when all of the super-heated gases, (heated above the ignition temperature) in a room or structure, ignite at the same time. If the gasses are pressurized, in a relatively closed room, an explosion could be the result. While the likelihood of such an occurrence is low, a backdraft is often fatal to anyone caught in it.

Bangor Ladder - This is a 50 foot or larger ladder that has "tormenter poles" to assist in the raising and to stabilize the sides. It is also called a "pole ladder". It takes several firefighters to raise this ladder. These are sometimes used when a structure is inaccessible by aerial apparatus. They are very resource intensive to set. It might require eight firefighters to raise one of these ladders.

Photos - Michael Smith
Note: Every so often someone asks if the name "Bangor Ladder" has anything to do with the town of Bangor, Maine.
The best answer might be, "Well Bangor would have you think so."

If you go to Bangor, Maine's website you can find your way to their fire museum. They list, among the items you can see there, "An Original Bangor Ladder".

Update: I have found the information below about Bangor ladders. It comes from a forum and references a source I can't find. It appears to be good information, but I can't verify it. I do accept it as factual due to the account found in a historical document.

From: http://www.geocaching.com

"Major James M. Davis, a joiner from Bangor, Maine, is credited with designing the Bangor Ladder after he returned from the Civil War and was elected captain of the Champion Hook & Ladder Company. Davis designed the Bangor Ladder in an effort to solve the major downfall of most lengthy ladders at the time -- their tendency to fail under stress because the solid, wooden beams on early extension ladders would sag and often break at the joint of the bed and fly. Single ladders that were long enough to reach the uppermost buildings in cities were out of favor because of their great weight. Long, heavy tormentor poles (also called prongs) were used in the early days to help raise the long ladders, but these poles were often carried separately from the ladder. Davis is credited with being the first person to develop an extension ladder with permanently attached tormentor poles that would fit flush to the ladder while stored on the truck. When needed at a fire the poles would easily swing out to assist in lifting the ladder as well as stabilizing the ladder once in place."

"Davis' new ladder was an immediate hit with firefighters in the Greater Bangor Area. However, it was General Joseph Smith, a Civil War Congressional Medal of Honor winner, that saw the value of Davis' ladder for a nation that was increasingly building upwards with taller and taller buildings. The General purchased Davis' interest in the ladder and set up the Bangor Extension Ladder Company. By 1890 hundreds of the Bangor Ladders were in service in most major cities. New York City purchased 200 while both Boston and Chicago had at least 50 ladders in service. Shortly after 1900 however the company went out of business after nearly 25 years of business."

Also quoted (verbatim) from this PDF: "Fire Service of Bangor"

"In 1874, Major James M. Davis, one of the brave Union defenders, and captain of Champion Hook and Ladder company, a joiner by trade, and since constructor and manager of some of the largest pulp· mills in the country; constructed a ladder for the use of his company and another for use in his own business. Being at work putting on outside windows at the residence of Gen. Joseph S. Smith, the attention of the latter was drawn to the ladder, and the result was that. General Smith· purchased a half interest itt the ladder and a patent was taken out on it in 1875.

Afterwards several other patents were taken out, and still others on which there was a question of infringement,. purchased. General Smith carried on the business most successfully for a time, having purchased Major Davis' interest. Recently- a joint stock company was organized, of which General Smith , is president and general manager, F. H. C. Reynolds, treasurer, with office in Masonic Block and factory at Salem Court. The company make the Bangor Extension and other ladders, hook and ladder trucks, etc., and deal in hose reels, hose and fire apparatus of every description.

They have sold over $125,000 worth of ladders, and there are now in use among other cities 200 in New York, 50 in Chicago, and 50 in Boston. This ladder received the Centennial medal at the Philadelphia exhibition of 1876, and also the gold medal of the New England Fair."

Note: The population of Bangor Maine in 2010 is shown as 35,473. They currently have three fire stations.

Update: I recently received the following email concerning "Bangor Ladders".
"Came across your info on the Bangor Ladder and wanted to share that it was, in fact, invented here in the Queen City. Major James M. Davis filed and received patent number 161010 in March 23, 1875 for the improved extension ladder. It was later manufactured in Bangor as well.
Thanks for sharing as much info as you have. I just wanted to add the official documentation as "proof".
Melissa Gerety, Executive Director, Bangor Historical Society"

Thank you for your email.

Battalion Chief - A supervisor over a specific number of stations or a section. For example, the chiefs over, EMS, training or communications could very well hold the rank of battalion chief.

Biotel - The medical direction for most (but not all) paramedics in the Dallas area. This is a room at Parkland hospital that is staffed by physicians with intercoms to all the areas of specialty in the hospital. If paramedics have a question or need to perform a procedure outside of standing orders they can speak to a doctor in that field. If the paramedic needs to talk to an OB-GYN or whatever, that doctor is on the line in seconds. It should be noted that this facility is not the only medical director in the area. A city, hospital, or private ambulance service may choose to use any system, including their own, for medical direction and oversight of it’s paramedics. See: http://www.biotel.ws/

For other systems or regions there will be a different name, For example, in Las Vegas they use the Las Vegas Emergency Medical Residency.
see: http://www.lasvegasemr.com/ems.html

"Black Fire" - Photo from the Ottawa FD

Black Fire - This term has only recently been officially recognized. This describes a situation where HEAVY, dense, black smoke is being emitted by a fire. This smoke will be of high velocity, turbulent, high volume and extremely dense. It will also be very hot. For all practical purposes this is a dense, superheated, cloud of fuel that is too rich to ignite. This smoke may be doing as much damage as fire. It can also be a sign of eminent flashover.

Booster - This is a term that can be applied to not only a line (see below) but to a particular type of vehicle. A small piece of apparatus that carries a pump, water, and a small, pre-connected line is often called by the name "Booster". For more information and photos, see: BOOSTERS

Booster Line - A hose that is usually one inch in diameter and rubber jacketed. But in some departments this can be the name given to any pre-connected line for the use of tank water. They are used on small fires using the water carried in an apparatus' booster tank and are usually stored on reels.

Box - A means of determining which companies are closest to an emergency location. Also slang for a "full response".
See History Page

Box - Slang term for MICU. Appears to be used by many departments. "I'm on the 'box' today." Means, "Today is my opportunity to be assigned to the MICU, thanks to the fair and pleasant rotation schedule implemented by our illustrious and wise station officer."

Box alarm / Box Card- This term may mean slightly different things in different departments. This comes from the old practice of transmitting fire alarms through a telegraph system. In general it means a "full alarm" or a predetermined amount of resources for a structure fire. To better understand this, read the information about Joker boxes, Second Alarms, Phantom Boxes etc. on the History page.

Bugle (Speaking Trumpet) - In the early days, of North American fire departments, orders were given to the troops, by officers, through the use of a large brass device that resembles a megaphone. These were very ornate brass horns. They were commonly called “bugles” or speaking trumpets.

The person with the bugle hanging from his neck or shoulder was easily identified as the person in charge. Officers became identified with these objects so a small pin in the shape of a bugle became a type of rank insignia for officers. The more “bugles on his collar” the higher the rank. An expression still used today.
For more information, go to Ranks and Organization.

3 bugles collar brass.

Brush Truck / Grass Wagon etc. - There are vehicles for fighting wildland or grass fires. Some of these are four wheel drive. In fact, there are some vehicles constructed on Hum-V's. (But this is too expensive for most fire departments.) Most often this is a tank and a pump mounted on a four wheel drive pick-up. The "A-Wagon" is often the grass fire apparatus but it is very common to see them referred to as these other names. It may also be called a "Patrol Truck".
For more info and photos see: Brush Trucks

Bunker Gear - This is the slang term for the protective clothing a firefighter wears. It generally consists of: boots, trousers, coat, gloves, hood, and helmet. It is technically referred to as “Personal Protective Equipment” or “PPE” and includes the SCBA. It is also known as "Turnout". See "Turnout"

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Church Raise - You probably would not believe this if you saw it. Imagine a 50 foot ladder sticking straight up in the air, with a firefighter sitting on top of it. This is basically a church raise. The ladder is balanced, in the position, by only four ropes attached to the top. Each rope is held by a firefighter who is keeping the ladder balanced. Firefighters often use this in training. It helps develop teamwork and trust. It is rarely used for emergencies.

Photo - Michael Smith

One of the authors of this site atop a 50'
church raise during rookie school in 1980.

(Taking a photo from the top.)

Clear - This is the same as "In Service" or "Available" for some departments.

Code One - Traveling to a location with no lights or sirens.

Code Three - Traveling to an emergency location WITH lights and siren. It should be noted that in most states there is no such thing as “Code Two”. However you may see apparatus traveling through residential areas at night without the siren on. This is just a courtesy to the people in the area.

Code Four - This is a signal that some police departments use to convey that everything is under control. Fire departments almost never use this term.

Note: These codes are not to be confused with the complicated codes used by some police departments. Some police and even some fire departments do use a system of number codes in an effort to talk privately or quickly on the radio. The widespread knowledge of what these codes mean and the use of cell phones have caused many cities to abandon the practice in favor of plain language.

DFW Airport Command

Dallas (Texas) Mobile Command Center

Command - Command exists for every incident. However, we do not establish a formal incident command unless the incident warrants it. If there are more than three companies at a scene, command is usually established so that everyone knows who is in charge. The first officer on the scene usually has the option of taking command or assigning it to someone else. Beyond that only chief officers have the authorization to transfer command.
Note: These rules or guidelines can vary slightly between departments but national standards are being established for Command. This is becoming very important as the need for multiple agencies at events grows.
Note: The large command vehicles are usually used only on the very largest of events. (More than Three Alarms.) For most single family home or apartments fires, command will be from a battalion chief's vehicle.

Command Technician - Firefighters trained in communications and organizational skills. This is a person who must be able to take in information and organize it, as well as, present it to command in a way that makes sense. Much more information and photo.

CO Detector - Fire departments have battery operated devices that can measure gasses in the air. These are often used to determine the presence of Carbon Monoxide in structures after fires have been determined “Under Control”. They can also detect the presence of CO in homes and some other gasses.

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Engine Bed Mounted Deck Gun

Deck Gun - A large water nozzle attached to a engine. Deck guns deliver larger amounts of water than hand-held hose. (See also Master Stream or Multiversals). This is also sometimes called a "deluge nozzle".

Defensive Operations - This is what usually appears on the news. This is a fire ground strategy based on firefighter safety and the protection of exposures. The goal is to simply confine the fire to the building/area of origin. No aggressive interior firefighting operations take place in the defensive mode. All fire streams are operated onto the fire from the outside. This strategy is employed when a fire has advanced to the point where attack operations  are too dangerous, and/or the fire is beyond the capabilities of on scene resources.

District (or District Chief) - This is subdivision within a fire department. This is usually comprised of several battalions. Some fire departments use the term "district" to describe a group of resources made up of companies. This is more commonly referred to as a battalion in the US. In Canada the word district is usually used in place of the word battalion.

Division – This can be a branch of the fire department such as the “Training Division” or the “Inspection Division.” It can also be a designated part of the Incident Command System (ICS). Division is used to designate a geographic location of operations. An example might be “Third floor division” or “Delta Division” (Which might indicate a side of a structure.) For Incident Command Definitions see HERE.

Drafting - Pulling water from a source other than a hydrant or another fire apparatus. Cisterns, lakes, ponds and swimming pools are often used in drafting operations. Many departments in rural areas and without fire hydrants use drafting.

Drag Rescue Device (DRD)

DRD - Drag Rescue Device - This is a strap, or webbing, that is integrated with the firefighter's turnout coat which allows for easier dragging. A, relatively, small strap protrudes, from under a flap, near the collar on the back of the fire coat. A rescuer can grab this strap and have a means to drag a fellow firefighter to safety. This is required on all new coats in NFPA 1971, 2007 edition.

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Irving Texas - Engine 3

Ft. Worth Texas - Engine 19

Engine - This is an apparatus designed for fire attack. It is the most common vehicle in fire departments. This apparatus carries, hose and usually about 500+ gallons of water. It also has a fire pump. Modern fire pumps can pump over 1500 GPM (Gallons Per Minute). These vehicles can also have the ability to supply foam and usually carries 3-4 personnel. Some departments, especially in Canada, refer to these apparatus as "Pumpers". Some departments, even in the U.S. may refer to their engines as "Pump 2" etc. at times. They can be just about any color. You can see apparatus colored: Red, Blue, Black, Lime Yellow, Yellow, Green or White, just to name the more common colors.

Engineer - In most departments, the engineer is the person that drives the Fire Engine or Ladder Truck. They can be known by several names. "Driver" "Fire Equipment Operator" (FEO). "Chauffeur" and others. The engineer is also responsible for all of the equipment that is on the apparatus and making sure that it is clean and in good working condition. They also run the pumps, ladders, etc. when they are at a fire. If they are the driver of a truck, they are responsible for running the aerial device (ladder etc.) and other tools such as generators or extrication tools.

New Orleans FD- Trying to save exposures 1-28-04

Exposure - These are all the endangered structures or other property that can be subsequently damaged by fire, traveling from another fire. This can include anything from autos to other buildings to stacked products to crops. The protection of exposures is a prime concern with any fire. Something that many people may not realize is that large fires can radiate intense heat. This can cause objects 100 feet away or more to combust. This is why you may see firefighters applying water to structures or objects across the street from heavy fires. There does not have to be direct flame contact for an object to apparently burst into flames. Fires from petroleum products such as natural gas, propane, or gasoline can be especially intense sources of radiated heat. Vehicles are common victims of radiated heat. Paint can be damaged or plastic parts melted great distances from the actual fire.

Extrication - The systematic and safe freeing or removal of persons who are trapped or pinned. This can be accomplished by highly technical means or may be a easy as opening a locked door.

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FAST - Firefighter Assist and Search Team. See: "RIC".

Fire District - This is different from a district within a city or a District Chief. See "District Chief". A fire district is an established tax district. This may include several cities or towns. It may also be a rural area. You can almost think of this as a co-op. Many volunteer fire departments are set up as districts that serve several communities. But this is not always the case. There are some very famous fire protection districts. Probably the most famous is LA County. The City of Los Angeles has it's own fire department but the rest of the county is under one huge fire department. Today, 57 cities contract with the Los Angeles County Fire Department which staffs a total of 163 engine companies, 31 truck companies, 79 paramedic units, and numerous other pieces of specialized apparatus. http://www.lacofd.org/ Many consider this a very efficient way of providing fire and rescue service. An example of NOT having a large fire district might be Dallas County in Texas. There are over 20 fire departments just in Dallas County. Every city has a different way of doing some things. This situation exists all over the country. Sometimes cities, in order to adequately protect it's citizens, are forced to build fire stations within sight of another city's stations. A combined fire district would prevent this. Resources could be shared or spread more evenly. Unfortunately, cities are often reluctant to let go of their fire departments once they are established.

Flashover - Similar to a backdraft with the exception that the room is not closed or pressurized to the point of explosion. All of the contents of the room have given off flammable gases that have been heated to their ignition point and a fire suddenly envelopes the room. From the outside you will often see the exiting smoke appear to instantly ignite.

Foam Metering Valve. Concentrations from .3% to 6%.

Foam - This is a mixture of water and a product that causes foam OR reduces the surface tension of the water. In the movies you think of airports "foaming the runways." Today, foam is use more often for structure fires and protecting exposures. The mixture of foam concentrate can be from as much 6% to as little as .3%. The lower concentrations are to cause the water to be able to penetrate burning substances by reducing the surface tension. This is especially valuable in situations where there is debris. It is difficult to extinguish bales of hay or tires without foam. A mixture of 3% might be used for a liquid hydrocarbon fire while 6% is used for burning alcohol. In the past it was only specialized apparatus that had the ability to pump foam at will. It is now common for fire engines to be able to provide foam at the flip of a switch in many communities. There is more than one type of foam.

Forcible Entry - This is a term often heard in news interviews. It is the act of gaining access to a structure or vehicle through means other than an open window or door. Frequently, firefighters must force open doors that are locked or blocked in order to enter a structure to search for victims & extinguish a fire. A wide variety of hand, power & hydraulic tools can be used for forcible entry.

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GPM - Gallons Per Minute. Everything we do, with regard to extinguishing fires with water, is about GPM. We talk of the amount of GPMs we will need to extinguish a theoretical fire or while formulating strategy on a working fire. A large apartment or warehouse fire may require thousands of gallons a minute to stop the spread and extinguish. A simple formula we might use is: length X width = (area) X .33. Using this, a 6000 sq ft structure would need a minimum of approximately 2000 GPM, per floor, to extinguish. This is more than the average fire hydrant or fire engine can provide.

Pueblo of Laguna, NM, Fire Department

Grass Wagon - (also Grass Truck, A-wagon, Booster, Brush Truck, Patrol Truck and many other names.) This is a small vehicle, usually built on a pick-up truck frame. It carries a small amount of water and the main purpose is to fight grass fires. It will often have the ability to pump and roll and will sometimes have a seat of some form, mounted on the bed or rear, for the hose operator to use as they roll down a fire line.

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Halligan Tool and "Irons"

Halligan - An all-purpose steel prying bar used as a forcible entry tool. It looks like a adze with a point on the side. The story is that it was invented by a New York City firefighter named Huey Halligan. In some circles it is known as a "Pro Tool". Often this tool is married together with an ax. Together with possibly some other forcible entry tools, this is often referred to as "Irons".

Pueblo of Laguna, NM, Haz Mat 1

Haz Mat - (also Hazmat, HazMat) This is short of "Hazardous Materials Response Unit." With today's complex and high technology world, many departments have invested resources and money to responding to such emergencies. Most of us would be surprised, if not alarmed to learn the many types and dangers associated with chemicals and products in our communities. Typically one department in a region will have a Haz Mat unit and through mutual aid agreements other departments will support and share that unit.

Nipissing, Ontario FD. Notice hose tower.

Hose Tower/Hose Rack - In northern climates the fire departments need a warm/indoor area to dry hose. In southern cities they usually just use outside racks made from metal. In the hose towers, the hose is hoisted up several stories and left to dry. On the hose rack it is just laid flat or on a slight incline. NOTE: In the past, hose was covered with a cotton jacket and had to be cared for to prolong its life for decades. The cotton would rot if allowed to remain wet for very long or it would mildew if rolled and stored wet. Today’s hose is designed to be rinsed off at the fire, and placed back on the apparatus wet. The jacket is made of mildew resistant synthetics and hose can only be in service for a short period of time before it is required to be replaced. For example, 1 ¾ inch hose has a service life of only 5 years. After this time, the hose must be disposed of, even if used very little, or none at all. For this reason, many cities are no longer constructing hose racks with new fire stations.

Hose rack for cleaning and drying hose.

Hurst Tool - This is the common manufacturer of something the public refers to as “The Jaws Of Life”. There are several manufacturers of similar devices but many departments use the Hurst brand and will refer to theirs as “The Hurst Tool”, "The Jaws", or simply as part of their “Extrication Tools” etc.

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Incident Command - See Command.

Irons - See "Halligan Tool"

ISO - Insurance Service Office - This is a, for profit, organization that provides statistical information on risk. see: http://www.iso.com/ For many years the "ISO Rating" had a large impact on most fire departments. The ISO (PPC) rating is from 10 - 1. With "1" being the best. At one time, almost, all insurance companies calculated rates based upon the ISO rating. For many years homeowner insurance premiums were calculated using something called the "ISO / PPC" System. (Insurance Service Office / Public Protection Classification) A few states had their own rating system, such as the "Key-Rate" system) but even this accomplished the same thing. Around 1990 the last remaining state adopted the ISO/PPC system. But just as the last remaining state was getting used to the ISO system and all its various inspection idiosyncrasies, State Farm and some other insurance companies tossed it out in many states. So now ISO ratings have very little, if any, effect on insurance premium rates in several states. For more information on the new system see this page: ISO

If anyone has more current information on ISO, please send it to me.

2001 Article in Firehouse Magazine about State Farm's change, with more details on the PPC and ISO rating system.
It also talks about the "Subzone Rating Factor" system.

In 2001 Arkansas tried to fight State Farm's change to the "loss per zip code" system.

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Jaws Of Life - See "Hurst Tool" above.

Joker System, Joker Box etc. - See Fire Service History Page.

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K-Tool - A very effective tool for the removal of door cylinders in mostly commercial structures. The firefighter simply slides the "K" shaped tool over the lock and then pry down with the halligan. The cylinder pops right off, giving easy access to the latch. This tool is often included with "irons".

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Ladder (as in "Ladder 49") - This is another name for a truck company. See "Aerial Truck" above.

Ladder Pipe- This is the process of pumping water to a nozzle mounted on an aerial ladder. This can be a ladder with plumbing built in or it can be the process of laying hose on the ladder and attaching it to a nozzle and the rungs.

Irving Texas, 8-2-04

“LDH” Large Diameter Hose - This is usually hose that is 5 inches in diameter. Using this hose, large volumes of water may be transported, under relatively low pressure. Many departments have converted to LDH from 3 inch. Some may carry both on their apparatus to give them flexibility and options. You may hear this referred to, on the radio, as “LDH” or “5 inch”. You can’t drive over this stuff or move it. It is too big and heavy. If a fire department has time, you may be able to get them to place hose bridges so you can get over this hose. Do not let your vehicle get caught on the wrong side of it. You may be there for the duration if you do.

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Maltese Cross - One can easily find web sites that will tell you that the current emblem of the fire service, in the U.S. and some other countries, is based upon the cross worn on the tunics of the Knights Hospitallers of Jerusalem, AKA the "Knights of Malta". But there is evidence that the current emblem bears little resemblance to this cross. However that does not mean that it wasn't originally based upon the "Maltese Cross". Perhaps it has just evolved and adopted other icons as well. The cross of St. Florian is one design that may have influenced the current shape. Much more information, on the subject, can be found here. The Maltese Cross and the Fire Service.

MICU - (Mobile Intensive Care Unit) This is what many people mistakenly refer to as an “ambulance”. Many fire departments will still write the word “ambulance” on these vehicles because people expect it. A MICU is capable of Advanced Life Support (ALS). In the past, the job of the ambulance was to transport the patient to medical care as soon as possible. The term "ambulance" comes from the word "ambulate" which means "to move about". Today the goal is to bring advanced medical care to the patient as quickly as possible. With the exception of some procedures, such as blood replacement, surgery and some lab tests, the paramedics on the MICU can perform just about any procedure you would get at a hospital emergency department in the first thirty minutes of care. There are some variations on the name of this vehicle. In Canada they may be labeled, "Advance Life Support Ambulance, Ministry of Health". I have also seen "ALS Ambulance" on the side of vehicles.

Several Master-streams (deck guns and aerials) in action.
Notice "Command" in the lower left. Irving, Texas

Monitor, Multi-versal, Master-stream - A large ground or apparatus mounted nozzle through which large amounts of water can be flowed. This device can often be remotely operated or it can be set up and allowed to run unattended.

Mutual Aid - This is an agreement between jurisdictions for the mutual assistance in the event of major events. Even the largest departments may need help from time to time. There is usually a pre-agreed upon procedure for implementing mutual aid. There can be pre-established automatic mutual aid. A city may agree to always take the runs for another in some remote location. Smaller departments depend upon mutual aid agreements.

MVA / MVC - Motor Vehicle Accident, Major Vehicle Accident, Motor Vehicle Collision. While most departments still use the term "MVA" some have gone to "MVC". It is felt that the word "accident" has some meanings that reflect blame or the lack thereof. Perhaps they feel that "collision" is a more accurate description of what has happened.

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NIMS - The National Incident Management System. A federally mandated program for the standardizing of command terminology and procedures. This standardizes communications between fire departments and other agencies. It is based upon simple terms that will be used nationwide. Currently, U.S. federally required training programs, from DHS, NFA and FEMA, are in the process of standardizing many terms and procedures under NIMS.

National Fire Academy (NFA) - In 1974 Congress passed The Federal Fire Prevention and Control Act (PL 93-498). Among other things it established the United States Fire Administration (USFA) and its National Fire Academy (NFA). Both career and volunteer firefighters attend this school, in Emmitsburg MD for advanced education in fire protection. It also offers courses for citizens in fire safety.
See: http://www.usfa.dhs.gov/about/

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Out - This is a radio term meaning, "Out at the emergency location." When you are usually "on scene" and you are out of service. It can also indicate that a fire is completely extinguished.

Overhaul - The systematic search for hidden fires or for fire extension. It is generally a damaging process. If the fire impinges upon a wall, that wall will probably be opened to insure that the heat and fire hadn't communicated through to the inside.

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Pass Device - This is one name given to the device all firefighters wear for locating firefighters in trouble. This device senses if a firefighter has remained motionless for a short period of time. It may also sense if the firefighter has been exposed to a rapid rise in temperature as may occur with a collapse. A piercing alarm is sounded under any of the conditions for which it is designed to detect. They are usually attached to the SCBA. You will often hear this device sounding because a firefighter has laid down his SCBA. These devices often do not have a simple way to turn them off and they will become active when the firefighter simply removes the SCBA from the apparatus or turns on his air supply. This solved the problem with earlier versions where the firefighter had to remember to turn it on.


Passport - This is just one type, of many, personnel accountability systems in use today. In the past, command would just try to keep track on the personnel in a hazardous environment or situation by just writing down vehicle numbers. But that was not very accurate at times. Today each company has some type of object with each person's name on it. The names can be written on or they can have a name tag that is affixed by a clip or velcro. The officer gives this object to command or the sector officer prior to entering a hazard zone. This way someone can always tell exactly who is where. If it becomes necessary to divide up companies, this can be done by moving names around and attaching them to other boards. In the example above the four people on this engine could be divided into two crews. This is the purpose of the third, empty, passport.

"PAR" or "PAC" etc.- Personnel Accountability Report (Check) etc. At various points during a operation command will call for a "PAR" (or some similar acronym). This might also be referred to as a "Roll Call". All company officers will report that they have their crew in sight or physical contact. They will respond with, "Engine 3 has PAR." or "Truck 9, PAR." An accountability report happens at timed intervals or when they situation has changed. Examples would be: Partial structure collapse, Fire Under Control, Change in tactics, Report of lost or injured firefighter.

Patrol Truck - It seems that small vehicles, designed for fighting grass or brush fires can be called anything. (See, A-wagon, Brush Truck, Grass Wagon, etc.) In some communities, a small water tank (around 200 gals) mounted on a pick-up, with a one inch line and a 200 GPM auxiliary pump, is called a patrol truck. This is used to patrol large grass fires. The truck will also usually carry tools like shovels and axes, etc. Patrol trucks appear to be most common in California, but can be found in other regions as well.

Pike Pole - A pike pole could be any number of designs for a piece of equipment used for overhaul. Most often it is use for the opening of ceilings. Of all the tools of the fire service, the pike pole is probably among the most often used. It is often the practice to have one carried in by a firefighter at all structure fires. The most common design is a hook with a point. See illustration. But there are many styles and designs. The pike pole is the "mouse trap" of the fire service. It seems that almost everyone believes that they can create a better one. The Dallas Fire Department is famous for one that looks like a harpoon that has a hammer type of handle. If you have ever seen a dent puller with a slide hammer type of handle, you can get the picture. A few designs are pictured.

Platoon - This is the term used by some departments to describe the shifts. Rather than say that there are three shifts, (A, B, & C) they will say that that there are three platoons.

Plug - Slang term for a fire hydrant. This survives from the days when water mains actually had holes in the tops that were plugged. Many firefighters would like to keep this word while many others think it should be replaced with the accurate term, "hydrant". For more info see :Fire Plug in the Q & A Page

Pumper - Another term for an "Engine". More common in some parts of the country then others, but you can find this term in some use in almost any region.

Primary Search - Very early in any fire or hazardous environment search or rescue Command will call for a "Primary Search". This is a quick search of all compartments in a structure for victims. The crews involved in the search should report, "Primary Search, All Clear."

Pompier Ladder - This is a ladder reportedly named for the firefighters of Paris, who are known as Pompiers.
This ladder has a large hook on one end. A firefighter would stick this in the window of the floor above him, climb out the window and up the ladder, where he would repeat the process. The usual pronunciation is just like it is spelled, "pom-pier" even though the French for firefighter is pronounced, "Pom-pe-ay".
For more information and photos, go to: "Pompier Ladders"

Public Information Officer (PIO) or Media Information Officer - In all cases, media information will be handled by command. This is a defined and designated responsibility of the incident commander. This position will be filled or staffed by command. The “Incident Commander” will be the person to give the media information and answer questions or they will detail someone to do this. At times the incident commander will not have time to talk with the media. But you can rest assured, that as soon as possible, someone will be speaking to the press.

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Quad - Apparatus that has four capabilities. While not as common as a "Quint" some departments do use such vehicles.

Arlington and Ft. Worth, Texas - Quints - Notice the pump panels and hose hand lines on each vehicle.

Quint - A piece of firefighting apparatus that can perform five of the major functions of fire apparatus. These include: Carry hose. Carry water. Pump water. Aerial ladder/water tower operations. Should also carry large amounts of ladders of to be considered a truck.

R&R, 8-2-2004 Irving Texas, 100 degree day, 5 alarm fire. (Click photo to see more.)

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R&R, Rest and Recovery (or Recuperation) - This a location or procedure allowing emergency workers to take breaks and recover. It might be as simple as getting a drink and a fresh air cylinder or it may involve food or even medical checks. It depends upon the extent of the operation. The time of year, summer v. winter, can also play a part in what is offered in R&R. It might be a place to cool off or warm up. Some departments have vehicles designed just for R&R. They might have cook tops and bathrooms. These are somewhat rare. Most departments will set up some kind of area under a tree or awning etc.

Radiated Heat, (Infrared Radiation) - Fire can produce intense radiated heat. This "radiated" energy travels through clear mediums (i.e. air & glass) without a problem. But when it strikes an opaque surface this energy excites the molecules and warms the surface. This can cause the object to combust even though it may be many feet from actual flame contact. See: "Exposure"

"RIC" or "RIT" - "Rapid Intervention Crew" or "Rapid Intervention Team" This will be a crew who is established strictly for the purpose of rescuing emergency personnel. Some form of RIC is required by NFPA 1500 and CFR 291910. They will assemble a collection of rescue tools and spare breathing apparatus. They cannot be used for firefighting unless a new crew is detailed to take their place. These people can be rotated as relief to the fire if another crew is detailed as the RIC. Note: in some areas this may be a "Rapid Intervention Group" (RIG) but this can be confused with the fact that some regions refer to apparatus as "Rigs". A call on the radio for a "rig to the north side" might confuse a mutual aid company. See also: "FAST".

Note: While all of these versions of the name for a firefighter rescue crew either have been used or continue to be used in several areas, the National Incident Management System (NIMS) has determined that Rapid Intervention Crew "RIC" will be the national term. Currently, U.S. federally required training programs, from DHS and FEMA, are in the process of standardizing many terms and procedures under NIMS.

"Rig" - An expression used, in some parts of the country, to describe a piece of apparatus. This is the entire vehicle. You may hear about connecting "the supply line to the rig." This describes the engine or pumper in this case. Firefighters develop a personal attachment to their rigs. While some areas used this term often, others will never use it.

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Salvage - The procedure whereby property is protected or saved. This can commence at the same time as firefighting or it can occur later. Salvage operations often include the covering of furnishings with tarps known as “Salvage Covers” or it can be as simple as placing a pan under a water drip to protect the apartment below.

SCBA (Self Contained Breathing Apparatus) - This is the breathing apparatus firefighters wear. A common mistake is to think that there is only oxygen in the cylinder. There is not. The cylinder the firefighter wears is filled with the same air everyone breathes. Imagine the amount of air in a box measuring four feet in every direction. That is about how much air each firefighter has. Each cylinder is rated for a specific amount of time, usually 30 - 60 minutes, but that is based upon little or no exertion. A 30 minute SCBA may only last 10 minutes under some conditions. Some departments may refer to their SCBA's by their brand names such as "Scott's" or "Dräger's" or "MSA's".

Second Alarm - (Third alarm etc.) In short, this is the number of times that companies are requested or dispatched to a fire. A full first alarm or "box" is a predetermined number of companies. The "second alarm" is the incident commander requesting another predetermined group of resources. There are several sections on the Fire Service History Page that touch on this subject.

Secondary Search - Once the fire is under control a second search of the structure will be conducted. The searching companies should report, "Secondary Search, All Clear."

Sector Officer, Sector, Sector Command - Often various operations subdivisions must be established. This can be fire area sectors or other divisions. For high rise fires each floor of operations will likely be a sector. In some incidents there may be an EMS or triage sector. The officer in charge of each sector will direct operations within his or her sector without giving specifics to Incident Command. If a fire structure is divided into sectors they will often be set up by sides. They may be referred to as "A" or "B" sector etc. Some departments may set up "North" or "South" sectors for some incidents.

Siamese - A device which is used to combine two lines into one. (Not to be confused with a "wye" which splits one line into two.)

Size up - This is the procedure and the report of the situation. The first arriving officer on the scene will "give a size-up" over the radio. This will include a description of the structure and the initial plan of attack. It's been said that size-up starts even before you leave the station. The time of day, the weather conditions, the availability of water and what you may already know about this structure are examples of factors that go into size-up. Once you arrive you don't just look at the fire. Are there cars in the driveway? Are there toys in the yard? Are the newspapers piled up? Many things go into size-up.

Snorkel, Okalona, KY

Snorkel - Sometimes people refer to any water tower, aerial ladder or elevated platform as a "Snorkel". This is inaccurate. A Snorkel is a brand name of articulating boom with a platform. It will usually have the ability to spray water from the platform permanently plumbed into the system. There are several types of aerial devices. Some are just large extension ladders. Some are ladders with a platform on the end. The articulating boom has the most versatile reach, but rescue efforts are slowed because the platform must be raised and lowered to bring people to the ground. A ladder or a platform on a ladder has the ability to allow a steady stream of people to exit the upper floors of a building without the need to go up and down itself. Just about any aerial device can be configured to have an elevated nozzle. See: Water Tower.

A "Squirt". New Orleans, LA.

Squirt - A smaller, articulating boom, usually mounted on an engine. The main purpose is to have an elevated fire stream. This does not make an "engine" a "quint" or "quad". This gives the engine's deck gun more reach and versatility. This is not a Snorkel, although the Snorkel company did manufacture such devices in the 1960's and 70's.

Still Alarm - Not every department uses this term and some will have a slightly different definition, but for the most part, this is basically an alarm that isn't a structure fire or more specifically, it does not get a box. I have heard several explanations of where this term originated but none I would want to print yet.

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Some "Taxpayer" structures.

Taxpayer - This is the fire service name for a small structure that has a business on the lower floor and a residence on the second floor. The residence may be presently used as an office, but it is still considered a "taxpayer" style of building. You will find these in older downtowns or neighborhoods. In some areas this might be the name given to any store with a residence connected but not necessarily two story.

One type of Thermal Imaging Camera

Thermal Imaging Camera - This is a camera that can be used to seek out hidden fires or see through smoke. It uses thermal imaging technology to detect the heat given off by objects. It can detect a difference of 1/10th of a degree. Some cameras have the ability to transmit the image back to command where it can be viewed or even recorded. The camera can also tell you the temperature of the object in the cross hairs. Some versions are hemet mounted. This device is so sensitive that it could help us find a victim who is is completely under many layers of bed covers. You may hear a fire crew ask for the camera by requesting “the TIC” or some other acronym. In most departments the cameras are not carried by every piece of equipment. Battalion chiefs or trucks may have them. For more information and photos on this you may go to: http://www.ci.irving.tx.us/Fire/cameras.htm


Dallas Fire Dept. T-3

Tiller or Tillerman - This is the name given to the driver who sits at the very back of those long ladder truck you used to see in the movies. This person steers the rear wheels. Only a few departments still have these kinds of vehicles.

Triage - A method of determining priority of treatment. This involves a quick treatment of those life threatening conditions that can be corrected in seconds. The actual requirements placed upon triage can vary depending upon the situation. In the worst of situations, with multiple patients, CPR is not performed. In situations where there is adequate manpower, CPR may have been considered in a similar patient. Often a officer who is an EMS supervisor is placed in the position of “Triage Officer”. But any EMS person may be given this task.

Truck - This vehicle carries equipment and ladders. The equipment may include: Lights. Generators. Salvage equipment. Overhaul tools. Forcible entry tools. Rescue tools. It may also transport personal to the scene. See "Aerial Truck" above.

Turnout Gear - Bunker Gear.

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Ventilation - The process of removing heated gasses or smoke from a building. This makes the building more tenable and helps to prevent such things as flashover or backdraft. This can be accomplished by several methods, from opening a window to cutting a hole in the roof. It can also be accomplished by forced ventilation, using high powered fans for horizontal ventilation.


Vigili Del Fuoco - (AKA: Corpo Vigili Del Fuoco) The Fire Department in Italy.

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Water Thief - A gated wye with (usually) a 2 1/2 inch inlet, two 1 1/2 outlets and a 2 1/2 outlet. This allows you "steal" water from a supply that is going elsewhere.

Water Tower - This is the name given to operations where the aerial on the truck is used to provide an elevated fire fighting nozzle. Just about any apparatus mounted aerial device can be used for this. Most ladders or articulating booms now have a water pipe built into the system. But even one that does not can quickly be adapted. In these cases a hose of 2 1/2 to 3 inches is laid on the ladder and secured to the top fly. A nozzle is clamped to the top rung and you are in business. The nozzle angle or pattern can be fixed or it might be changeable from the ground by cables. see: Truck

"Wet Water" - Water which has had a wetting agent added. Doing so reduces surface tension and allows the water to penetrate into the burning substance more easily. This it helpful in several applications. One of the best examples might be the overhaul of bails of hay. It will also assist with some structure fires. The agent can be as simple as dishwashing soap or a foaming agent that is added at a VERY low concentration.

Wildland firefighting - The act of attempting to control brush, grass or forest fires. Some of these operations will last for days or weeks. These efforts will often include airdrops of water or fire retardant as well as special crews and special apparatus. Pictured above are a BLM crew vehicle and a National Forest Service engine stationed in Canyon Texas.

Wye (Y) - A device for splitting one hose into two (usually smaller) lines. (Not to be confused with a "Siamese" which is used to combine two lines into one.)

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Most Action Photos Copyright© Ben Saladino. Most photos since November 2002 taken with Nikon Coolpix 5700.
See hundreds more at:http://www.bensware.com/firetrucks/photos.htm

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