A fire engine (also known in some territories as a fire apparatus, fire truck, or fire appliance) is a vehicle designed primarily for firefighting operations. In addition, many fire departments/fire services often employ their vehicles for various other uses including emergency medical services and rescue purposes. The terms "fire engine" and "fire truck" are often used interchangeably.
The primary purposes of a fire engine include transporting firefighters to an incident scene, providing water with which to fight a fire, and carrying other equipment needed by firefighters. A typical modern vehicle will carry tools for a wide range of firefighting and rescue tasks, with common equipment including ladders, a self-contained breathing apparatus, ventilating equipment, first aid kits, and hydraulic rescue tools.
Many fire vehicles are based on standard vehicle models (although some parts may be upgraded to cope with the demands of the vehicles' usage). They are normally fitted with audible and visual warnings, as well as communication equipment such as two-way radios and mobile computer technology.
The standard fire engine is an apparatus designed primarily for firefighting operations. The primary purpose of the engine is transporting firefighters to the scene, providing a limited supply of water with which to fight the fire, and carrying tools, equipment, and hoses needed by the firefighters. The tools carried on the fire engine will vary greatly based on many factors including the size of the department and what sort of terrain the department must handle. For example, departments located near large bodies of water or rivers are likely to have some sort of water rescue equipment. Standard tools found on nearly all fire engines include ladders, hydraulic rescue tools (often referred to as the jaws of life), floodlights, fire hose, fire extinguishers, self-contained breathing apparatus, and thermal imaging cameras.
The exact layout of what is carried on an engine is decided by the needs of the department. For example, fire departments which cover metropolitan areas are more likely to assist with non-fire-related cases such as hazardous material removal/cleanup and technical rescues of people from traffic collisions or structural collapses, while rural departments may need to do things like access remote areas or extinguish forest fires.
Some fire engines have a fixed deluge gun, also known as a master stream, which directs a heavy stream of water to wherever the operator points it. An additional feature of engines are their preconnected hose lines, commonly referred to as preconnects. The preconnects are attached to the engine's onboard water supply and allow firefighters to quickly mount an aggressive attack on the fire as soon as they arrive on scene. When the onboard water supply runs out, the engine is connected to more permanent sources such as fire hydrants or water tenders and can also use natural sources such as rivers or reservoirs by drafting water.
A turntable ladder (TL) is perhaps the best-known form of special purpose aerial apparatus, and is used to gain access to fires occurring at height using a large telescopic ladder, where conventional ladders carried on conventional appliances might not reach. The name is derived from the fact that the large ladder is mounted on a turntable on the back of a truck chassis, allowing it to pivot around a stable base. To increase its length, the ladder is telescopic. Modern telescopic ladders are either hydraulic or pneumatic. These mechanical features allow the use of ladders which are longer, sturdier, and more stable. They may also have pre-attached hoses or other equipment.
A ladder can also be mounted behind the cab. This is sometimes called "mid-ship" and the arrangement allows a lower travel height for the truck, and also can be more stable in certain conditions.
The key functions of a turntable ladder are:
While the traditional characteristic of a fire appliance was a lack of water pumping or storage, many modern TLs have a water pumping function built in (and some have their own on-board supply reservoir), and may have a pre-piped waterway running the length of the ladder which directs a stream of water to the firefighters at the top. In some cases, there may also be a monitor at the top of the ladder for ease of use. Other appliances may simply have a track-way which will hold a manually-run hose reel securely, and prevent it from falling to the ground.
In the United States, some turntable ladders with additional functions such as an onboard pump, a water tank, fire hose, aerial ladder and multiple ground ladders, are known as quad or quint engines, indicating the number of functions they perform.
In the United States, a tiller truck, also known as a tractor-drawn aerial, tiller ladder, or hook-and-ladder truck, is a specialized turntable ladder mounted on a semi-trailer truck. Unlike a commercial semi, the trailer and tractor are permanently combined and special tools are required to separate them. It has two drivers, with separate steering wheels for front and rear wheels.
One of the main features of the tiller-truck is its enhanced maneuverability. The independent steering of the front and back wheels allow the tiller to make much sharper turns, which is particularly helpful on narrow streets and in apartment complexes with maze-like roads. An additional feature of the tiller-truck is that its overall length, over 50 feet (15 m) for most models, allows for additional storage of tools and equipment. The extreme length gives compartment capacities that range between 500 and 650 cubic feet (14 and 18 m3) in the trailer with an additional 40 and 60 cubic feet (1.1 and 1.7 m3) in the cab.
Some departments elect to use tiller-quints (see quint below), which are tiller trucks that have the added feature of being fitted with an on-board water tank. These are particularly useful for smaller departments that do not have enough personnel to staff both an engine company and a truck company.
Some aerials have a platform, also known as a basket or bucket, mounted at the top of the ladder. These are commonly known as platform trucks. These platforms can provide a secure place from which a firefighter can operate. Many platforms also allow for rescues to be performed and are outfitted with tie down clips and rappelling arms.
There are also platform trucks that do not have a ladder attached to the platform. These specialized elevated work platforms are capable of articulating which allows the arm to bend in one or more places. This is an advantage over the traditional platform ladder, which can only extend in a straight line and gives the articulating platform the ability to go "up and over" an obstacle (see picture).
A heavy rescue vehicle, sometimes referred to as a Rescue Company, Rescue Squad or Technical Rescue, is a type of specialty firefighting apparatus. They are primarily designed to carry specialized equipment for technical rescue situations such as vehicle extrications following traffic collisions, confined space rescues, rope rescues, swiftwater rescues, or building collapses.
In addition to fire and rescue departments, tram or railway companies may have their own dedicated heavy rescue squads. For example, railway rescue squads may carry very specialized equipment, for railway accidents, like hydraulic jacks with capacity for lifting locomotives or even moving them horizontally, and equipment for tank car accidents.
Wildland firefighting requires vehicles that can easily negotiate difficult terrain and high-gradient roads, be self-reliant, and have high clearances for wheels and suspension. These wildland fire engines are traditionally smaller than standard fire apparatus and are primarily used for vegetation fires or wildland fires. They may also respond to emergencies in rough terrain where other vehicles cannot respond. Most wildland engines feature four-wheel drive capability to improve hill climbing and rough terrain capability. Some wildland apparatus can pump water while driving (compared to some traditional engines which must be stationary to pump water), allowing "running attacks" on vegetation fires to minimize the rate of spread.
Fire departments that serve areas along the wildland–urban interface are faced with unique challenges that departments based in larger cities or strictly rural areas do not need to worry about. Departments in these areas often elect to use a type of fire engine commonly referred to as a wildland-urban interface engine or simply interface engines. While technically considered a wildland fire engine by many, these maintain the traditional look and feel of a standard engine.
Many fire departments operate a number of vehicles in specialized logistical functions. These can be stand-alone vehicles, or may be modular, such as with the use of a hook-lift system. Hooklifts are sometimes only employed for seldom-used equipment; they can load a variety of different equipment containers very rapidly and act as a special unit with lower investment costs. For example, the Helsinki Rescue Department has several hooklift trucks and more than 40 containers, including a water container, a hose container, and an oil destruction container. Containers may also carry a command post, salvage tools, foam barrels, hoses, special pumps for wildfires, and field hospitals.
The advancement of technology and potential for very large-scale incidents has led to many fire departments increasing their use of mobile command support units.
A fundamental advantage of such an appliance is to accommodate the many different types of communication equipment needed at major incidents. In addition to the wide range of radio frequencies used, a fire chief often needs to communicate via landlines and send and receive information via satellite links and CCTV to keep aware of and control the ongoing situation. The command unit can essentially be used as an on-site conference center for command personnel, mapping and planning firefighting operations and directing crews as they arrive.
A tanker truck, which can also be known as a water tender or water bowser, is a specialist fire appliance with the primary purpose of transporting large amounts of water to the fire area to make it available for extinguishing operations. These are especially useful in rural areas where fire hydrants are not readily available and natural water resources are insufficient or difficult to exploit.
Most tankers have an on-board pumping system. This pump is often not of sufficient power to fight fires (as it is designed to be attached to a fire engine), but is more often used to draw water into the tender from hydrants or other water sources. In some areas, the tenders are used to pump water during floods, and may be fitted with a heavier duty pump for this purpose. Many tankers are equipped with fast-drain valves on the sides and back of the truck. This allows firefighters to empty thousands of gallons of water into a portable water tank in just a few seconds.
Most water tenders are designed to carry loads of 1,000 US gallons (3,800 L; 830 imp gal) or more.
An airport crash tender, or "crash rig", is a specialized fire engine designed for use at aerodromes in aircraft accidents. Some of the features that make the crash rigs unique are their ability to move on rough terrain outside the runway and airport area, large water capacity as well as a foam tank, a high-capacity pump, and water/foam monitors. Newer ARFF vehicles also incorporate twin agent nozzles/injection systems to inject a stream of Purple-K dry chemical into the AFFF (Aqueous Film Forming Fluroprotein) foam stream, which "flattens" the fire faster. Some also have Halotron tanks with handlines for fires which must be extinguished with a dry chemical similar to the ones which can be found in a fire extinguisher. These features give the airport crash tenders a capability to reach an airplane rapidly, and rapidly extinguish large fires with jet fuel involved.
Other fire apparatus include:
In some communities a fire apparatus, often a paramedic engine, will be used to carry first responder firefighters, paramedics or EMTs to medical emergencies because of their faster response times due to forward staging in the city. Fire departments may also have lifeguards in places such as Los Angeles County, California.
The design and construction of fire engines focuses greatly on the use of both active and passive warnings. Passive visual warnings involve the use of high contrast patterns to increase the noticeability of the vehicle. These types of warnings are often seen on older vehicles and those in developing countries. More modern designs make use of retroreflectors to reflect light from other vehicles. Vehicles will also often have these reflectors arranged in a chevron pattern along with the words fire or rescue. European countries commonly use a pattern known as battenburg markings. Along with the passive warnings, are active visual warnings which are usually in the form of flashing colored lights (also known as "beacons" or "lightbars"). These flash to attract the attention of other drivers as the fire truck approaches, or to provide warning to drivers approaching a parked fire truck in a dangerous position on the road. While the fire truck is headed towards the scene, the lights are always accompanied by loud audible warnings such as sirens and air horns.
An early device used to squirt water onto a fire was known as a squirt or fire syringe. Hand squirts and hand pumps are noted before Ctesibius of Alexandria invented the first fire pump around the 2nd century B.C., and an example of a force-pump possibly used for a fire-engine is mentioned by Heron of Alexandria. The fire pump was reinvented in Europe during the 16th century, reportedly used in Augsburg in 1518 and Nuremberg in 1657. A book of 1655 inventions mentions a steam engine (called a fire engine) pump used to "raise a column of water 40 feet (12 m)", but there was no mention of whether it was portable.
Colonial laws in America required each house to have a bucket of water on the front stoop during fires at night. These buckets were intended for use by the initial bucket brigade that would supply the water at fires. Philadelphia obtained a hand-pumped fire engine in 1719, years after Boston's 1654 model appeared there, made by Joseph Jencks, but before New York's two engines arrived from London.
By 1730, Richard Newsham, in London, had made successful fire engines; he invented the first ones used in New York City (in 1731) (this was six years before formation of the NYC volunteer fire department). The amount of manpower and skill necessary for firefighting prompted Benjamin Franklin to found an organized fire company in 1737. Thomas Lote built the first fire engine made in America in 1743. These earliest engines are called hand tubs because they are manually (hand) powered and the water was supplied by a bucket brigade dumping it into a tub (cistern) where the pump had a permanent intake pipe. An important advancement around 1822 was the invention of an engine which could draft water from a water source. This rendered the bucket brigade obsolete. In 1822, a Philadelphia-based manufacturing company called Sellers and Pennock made a model called "The Hydraulion". It is said to be the first suction engine. Some models had the hard, suction hose fixed to the intake and curled up over the apparatus known as a squirrel tail engine.
The earliest engines were small and were either carried by four men, or mounted on skids and dragged to a fire. As the engines grew larger they became horse-drawn and later self-propelled by steam engines. John Ericsson is credited with building the first American steam-powered fire engine. John Braithwaite built the first steam fire-engine in Britain.
Until the mid-19th century, most fire engines were maneuvered by men, but the introduction of horse-drawn fire engines considerably improved the response time to incidents. The first self-propelled steam pumper fire engine was built in New York in 1841. Unfortunately for the manufacturers, some firefighters sabotaged the device and its use of the first engine was discontinued. However, the need and the utility of power equipment ensured the success of the steam pumper well into the twentieth century. Many cities and towns around the world bought the steam fire engines.
Motorized fire engines did not become commonplace until the early 20th century. By 1905, the idea of combining gas engine motor trucks into fire engines was attracting great attention; according to a Popular Mechanics article in that year, such trucks were rapidly gaining popularity in England. That same year, the Knox Automobile Company of Springfield, Massachusetts, began selling what some have described as the world's first modern fire engine. A year later, the city of Springfield, Illinois, had filled their fire department with Knox engines.
For many years firefighters sat on the sides of the fire engines, or even stood on the rear of the vehicles, exposed to the elements. This arrangement was uncomfortable and dangerous (some firefighters were thrown to their deaths when their fire engines made sharp turns on the road), and today nearly all fire engines have fully enclosed seating areas for their crews.
Early pumpers used cisterns as a source of water. Water was later put into wooden pipes under the streets and a "fire plug" was pulled out of the top of the pipe when a suction hose was to be inserted. Later systems incorporated pressurized fire hydrants, where the pressure was increased when a fire alarm was sounded. This was found to be harmful to the system and unreliable. Today's valved hydrant systems are kept under pressure at all times, although additional pressure may be added when needed. Pressurized hydrants eliminate much of the work in obtaining water for pumping through the engine and into the attack hoses. Many rural fire engines still rely upon cisterns or other sources for drafting water into the pumps. Steam pumper came in to use in the 1850s.
In the late 19th century, means of reaching tall structures were devised. At first, manually extendable ladders were used; as these grew in length (and weight), they were put onto two large wheels. When carried by fire engines these wheeled escape ladders had the wheels suspended behind the rear of the vehicle, making them a distinctive sight. Before long, turntable ladders — which were even longer, mechanically extendable, and installed directly onto fire trucks — made their appearances.
After the Second World War turntable ladders were supplemented by the aerial work platform (sometimes called "cherry picker"), a platform or bucket attached onto a mechanically bending arm (or "snorkel") installed onto a fire truck. While these could not reach the height of similar turntable ladders, the platforms could extend into previously unreachable "dead corners" of a burning building.