Friday, November 15, 2013

Fire Apparatus 101

Last year I ran across this account of a traffic accident involving a fire engine that was posted on the website of a local news station:

“Officials say the truck from Engine 9 was enoroute to a call with lights and sirens active, when they were hit.”

For the sake of this post we’re going to overlook the misspelling of “en route” and other grammatical/punctuation errors, and focus instead on basic fire department lingo.

Considering that many people outside of the fire service simply don't know the differences in fire apparatus, I generally don't get my knickers in a twist when people call them “fire trucks.” But there are differences in fire apparatus, and it’s important to understand those differences if you’re going to write about firefighting in any detail. Please note that the terms I provide here are basic and may differ from terminology used in other parts of the country.

“Fire truck” is a generic term frequently used by the public (and sometimes by firefighters) when referring to vehicles such as fire engines (which are also called pumpers) and ladder trucks (also known as aerial ladder trucks, aerials, or simply trucks). There are different types of ladder trucks, including tower ladders and tiller trucks, but for now we’ll stick with the basics.

Fire departments also have specialized apparatus such as tankers/tenders that haul large amounts of water to fire scenes (common in rural areas); heavy rescue units that respond to building collapses, trench rescues, and the like; and brush trucks or wildland trucks used in fighting grass, brush, and forest fires. Some coastal departments have fireboats (which are very cool in my opinion!) and a few larger departments with hefty budgets even have their own helicopters.

Fire departments typically use specific identifiers for their apparatus. A common structure is to identify the vehicle by type and the fire station to which it’s assigned. In Colorado Springs, Engine 9 is a fire engine operating out of Fire Station 9; Truck 4 is a ladder truck operating out of Station 4; and so on.

Thus “The truck from Engine 9” in the sentence above just makes no sense whatsoever. 

Again, keep in mind that each fire department is different and may use different terminology. If you want to see the kinds of apparatus fire departments use, just go online and search by the department name. You’ll see fire apparatus of every kind, shape, size, and even in a variety of colors because not all fire trucks are red!

Falcon (CO) Fire Protection District Engine 311
staged at a roadblock during the June 2013 Black Forest Fire.
Photo by Robin Widmar. Copyright 2013.

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