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Fire Service FAQs and Much More

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Contents Copyright© 2011 by the various contributors.
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This site is not associated with, nor does it represent the views of any particular fire department.

Does a full moon affect the number or types of run?
Why do they call it a Fire "Plug"? What is a "Kelly Day"?
Check out our Q & A/ Trivia page.

Fire Service Apparatus
What you observe going down the road is probably not really a fire "truck".
Here's why.

























Texas Fire Museum Muster

All fire service vehicles are generically referred to as “Apparatus”.
Regardless of what you may think, "Fire Trucks” are not the most common apparatus you see going down the street. Fire apparatus is categorized by what function it can carry out.

Examples of these functions include:

  • Transport Hose
  • Transport (Major) Ladders and Equipment
  • Pump Water
  • Transport Water
  • Transport Personnel
  • Other specialized tasks.

Lets look at what you are really seeing.

Apparatus can be found in any color.

Engines- This is what most fire departments call the basic vehicle in this region of the country. But just about anywhere you can find a department where these kinds of apparatus are sometimes referred to as “Pumpers”. Most of the time they could generically be referred to as “triple capacity” apparatus. This is because they can do three jobs. They can pump, transport personnel, and carry hose. This is not a “fire truck”. It is possible to have a single function vehicle. New York has had vehicles with giant pumps mounted on them. It can pump tens of thousands of gallons a minute. But that is all it can do. A separate vehicle, called a “Hose tender”, must be dispatched with the pump vehicle. It is also possible to have apparatus that can perform four or five major functions. These are called "Quads" or "Quints". Engines can also be classified as "Type I", Type II" or "Type III". This pertains to the size of pump etc. The engines shown above would be "Type I". The E-One "Squad" shown might be a "Type II" and the Brush truck is possibly a Type III".

Engine 7 Newton County GA FD (MC photo)

FYI: A little Fire Apparatus History.
The first pump designed for fire fighting may have been created by Ctesibius of Alexandria around the second century BC. The technology was subsequently lost, when Alexandria burned, and reinvented in Europe during the 1500's.

Thomas Lote built the first fire engine made in America in 1743, although some hand pump units were imported from Europe prior to that time.

John Ericsson is credited with building the first steam powered fire engine.

The first self propelled steam engine (pumper) was built in New York in 1841. It was the target of sabotage and scorned by fire fighters and it's use was discontinued. Self propelled (motorized) fire apparatus did not gain acceptance until after 1900.

One of the first motorized pumpers for Dallas, Texas. circa 1915

In 1853, Alexander Bonner Latta invented the first practical fire engine, a "steam" engine. Built and tested in Cincinnati, Ohio, it's main feature was a boiler made of two square chambers: the inner fire box and the outer one for water and steam. That same year, Cincinnati became the first American city to replace volunteers with the horse-drawn steam fire engine and to form a paid fire department.

Hose tender and steam pumper, East Dallas FD, circa 1886
(Annexed by city of Dallas, 1889.)

Steam Pumpers in action. This is reported to be circa 1906
But notice the motorized vehicle to the far left.
Model T Fords were not produced until 1909.
Does this car look like an early Model T or Tin Lizzi to anyone?
Model A's were first sold in 1927. Any car experts out there with info?

Irving (TX) FD, circa 1935-1940

Irving (TX) FD, circa 1947 or later.

The first "trucks" were horse drawn wagons with ladders and other equipment. This apparatus transports a large complement of ladders and equipment. It usually does not have a pump. But we are still only talking about the hand deployed "ground ladders". The ladders you may see on “Engines” are few in number and generally not very long. The ladders on trucks can be 50 feet long or more each. This does not include the hydraulic operated, apparatus mounted, “aerial devices”. These are the giant ladders or “Snorkels” seen on some apparatus. They can be “articulating boom” (Snorkel) or large extension ladders with or without platforms on the end. While an engine may carry 30 - 40 feet of ladders, a truck may carry hundreds of feet of hand deployed "ground ladders" plus a 100ft or more aerial device.

Truck (or possible Quint) - Reedy Creek, Florida. Very interesting department.
(Serves EPCOT, WDW -Click on photo for more info) (MC Photo)

Truck or Quint, New Albany Indiana- Ben Saladino photo

Click on photo for more Indiana Apparatus Photos.

Quints- This is a piece of apparatus that enjoys some controversy. As the name implies this vehicle carries out five functions. The two most notably are that of pump and aerial device on one vehicle. Many city managers think that if you buy a quint you can do away with the need for having both an engine and a truck. Fire chiefs tend to point out that if you have only three or four people on the quint that you have the function of either a truck crew or an engine crew at a fire and not both. It should also be noted that there are pump/engine apparatus that have small ladders or booms mounted on them. These are not “quints”. These are often referred to as “Squirts” or the like. It takes a large aerial device, mounted on apparatus with a full size pump, with a full load of hose, and a water tank to be called a quint. There is a photo of a quint on the glossary page.

Ft. Worth Texas - Squad 2 - Note the color of the apparatus.

Squads- This is an all purpose term often applied to smaller apparatus. This can be a vehicle just for carrying extra personnel or it can be a vehicle with some pumping ability or other special function. Just about anything might be called a "squad".

Flower Mound (Texas) FD "B501" and Irving (TX) "Booster 11"

Pueblo of Laguna (NM) Brush 2" (All MC photos)

Brush Truck / Grass Wagon / Patrol Truck / Booster - There are vehicles for fighting wildland or grass fires. Some of these are four wheel drive. In fact, there are some vehicles constructed from Hum-V's. (But this is too expensive for most fire departments.) Most often this is a water tank, and a pump mounted on a four wheel drive pick-up. Some of these vehicles can be a simple as a pickup with a small tank, pump, and line while other can be equipped with all kinds of equipment. Some have plumbed in nozzles located on the bumper that can be operated from the cab. Notice that the "Booster 11" pictured above is constructed with a low profile. There are no big lights on top. This makes it better able to do double duty in parking garages. (Something northern Irving, Texas, has many of.)

Rescue "QRV 2" Rocky Plains FD, (Newton Co. GA) (MC Photo)

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 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.

South Padre Island FD (TX) Beach Patrol and Rescue (MC photo)

MICU’s- For the most part, “ambulances” no longer exist. Texas state law has definitions of EMS apparatus. If it has a paramedic and the equipment needed for “Advanced Life Support” (ALS) it is called a “Mobile Intensive Care Unit” or “M.I.C.U.” You can find more about EMS in the section on "EMS & The Fire Service".

Rescue Unit - Kauai, Airport, Hawaii. (MC Photo)

Special Supervisor Units- These include Battalion Chiefs, EMS Supervisors and many other types of applications.

Air and Lights support vehicle.

Support Apparatus- These include vehicles or dedicated companies for special operations or situations. Examples would be: Haz Mat, High Angle Rescue, Air Filling Vehicles, Dive Teams, Rescue Boats and others. The list is endless.

Click on photo for more Seattle area fire apparatus photos
by Ben Saladino

Special vehicles or other apparatus- Fire departments might be very imaginative when it comes to other vehicles or apparatus. You can see all kinds of vehicles for just about any special purpose.

Many departments have invested in off-road vehicles for event EMS service or rescue.
(MC Photo)

Numbering of apparatus- The numbering system for fire apparatus might appear strange if you ever try to examine it. Some departments, with only two stations may designate their apparatus with two or three digit numbers. There could be any one of several reasons for this.

  • The entire county or mutual aid system may be on one numbering system. For example, a smaller city may have the numbers 250-270 for their use. This way communications are not confused at large fires. Without such a system there may be three companies called "Engine 1" at the same fire. (Note: This may be a voluntary program so you may see both numbering systems in the same county or at the same fire.)
  • A city may have several engines at one station. For example, if Station 5 has three engines, they may be numbered, "Engine 51", "Engine 52" and "Engine 53".
  • When FDNY became fully paid they absorbed some other fire departments. For example, the Bronx had there own numbering system that duplicated other apparatus. To solve this problem, all Bronx apparatus simply received a "2" before their number. Engine 5 for the Bronx became Engine 205 for FDNY.
  • A city may have stations numbering 1-5 but also have a "Central Fire Station". The apparatus at this station might be numbered "11" or something else.
  • Traditional fire apparatus numbering did not allow the use of a "0" for identification. For decades, apparatus was dispatched by ringing a bell. A "box" or a piece of equipment was identified by a series of bells. A signal of 2 bells then 3 bells meant box or station 23. They did not have a way to ring a "0". They also did not want to ring nine times so the largest number of bells was five or six. This means that you could not ring a "7". After five or six the number might be "1-1". Strange (but very efficient) numbering systems and codes evolved from this.
  • Chief officers will often have three digit numbers. This is often derived from the number the city has designated for the fire department. If the fire department is "Department 5" to the city government, then the chief of that department will be "500". Assistant chiefs will be "501", "502" etc. In some cities the vehicle numbers will reflect the department number. The engine from Station 1 might be called "Engine 501" or even "Engine 511". You never know.
  • There are other numbering systems as well.

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




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