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What do firefighters call their trucks?

Firefighters have a few different names for the trucks they use to respond to emergencies. The most common term is “fire engine.” This large truck carries water, hoses, and tools for fighting fires. Other key firefighting vehicles include ladder trucks and rescue trucks. Each vehicle serves a specific purpose for the brave men and women who protect our communities from fires and other disasters. In this article, we’ll explore the different types of fire trucks and why firefighters have special names for them. Understanding firefighting vehicles helps us appreciate the critical role they play in keeping people safe.

Fire Engine

The fire engine, sometimes just called “the engine,” is likely the first thing that comes to mind when picturing a fire truck. These large trucks have an engine and carry key tools for battling blazes, including:

  • Water tank – Fire engines have reservoirs that can hold hundreds or even thousands of gallons of water. This allows firefighters to spray water onto fires immediately without having to connect to a hydrant first.
  • High-powered water hoses – Fire hoses on engines can shoot water incredibly long distances. The hoses connect to the truck’s water tank and pump system.
  • Ground ladders – Most fire engines have ladder racks to carry multiple extension ladders.
  • Jaws of Life – Firefighters use these hydraulic tools to pry open mangled metal and rescue trapped victims from vehicle crashes.
  • Other firefighting and rescue equipment – This can include ventilating fans, thermal imaging cameras, air packs, extrication tools, and more.

The primary purpose of a fire engine is responding rapidly to fires and emergencies with everything needed to mount an immediate attack and start life-saving operations. Having water and equipment on board allows firefighters to begin controlling the incident within moments of arrival. For fires, that quick response can stop the flames from spreading. In medical emergencies, it gives EMTs and paramedics what they need to provide emergency care.

Pumper Trucks

“Pumper truck” is another common name used interchangeably with fire engine. As the name suggests, these trucks have powerful pumps that can move water at very high pressure from the onboard tank through the fire hoses. This pressure allows firefighters to spray water long distances to suppress large fires. Pumper capacities range from about 500 to 2,000 gallons. Some pumpers carry foam or chemical extinguishing agents in addition to water.

Ladder Trucks

The ladder truck, also known as an aerial apparatus, has an extendable ladder for reaching tall buildings. While fire engines mount basic ladders, the ladder truck is specialized for high-angle rescue and ventilation.

Key features include:

  • Telescopic ladders – Hydraulically powered ladders can reach heights up to 100 feet or more. This allows firefighters to spray water or make rescues far up on tall buildings.
  • Basket – A platform on the end can carry firefighters for operations high above the ground.
  • Water hoses – High-rise hose connections allow firefighters to spray water from the ladder.
  • Ventilation fans – Large fans can vent heat and smoke from burning structures.
  • Spotlights – These illuminate operations at nighttime emergencies.
  • Technical rescue equipment – Such as rappelling ropes and harnesses.

Having a ladder truck on scene is invaluable for accessing upper floors of tall buildings. They can reach victims beyond the extension of ground ladders on fire engines. Ladder trucks also allow optimal water delivery for tall structures through elevated master streams. And they have ample lighting and ventilation capabilities.

Tiller Trucks

Some ladder trucks have a rear tiller cab with steering controls. This allows for improved maneuverability of the long truck. The operator in the tiller cab can make the back wheels turn in a different direction from the front wheels for tight fits into narrow city streets. That’s why firefighters call them tiller trucks.

Rescue Trucks

Rescue trucks are specialized units that carry advanced tools and equipment for technical rescue operations. This can include:

  • Vehicle extrication tools – Hydraulic jaws, cutters, and rams for removing victims trapped in car crashes.
  • Rope rescue equipment – For high-angle and confined space rescue.
  • Shoring struts – To stabilize collapsed trenches or buildings.
  • Construction equipment – Such as chainsaws and circular saws.
  • Air monitoring devices – To detect hazardous gases.
  • Medical equipment – Stretchers, triage supplies, and ALS care equipment.

Not all fire departments have dedicated rescue trucks. Some carry technical rescue gear on their engines or ladder trucks. Rescue trucks allow the most thoroughly equipped response for specialized rescue situations like building collapses, swiftwater emergencies, or crises involving hazardous materials. Carrying the right tools can make all the difference in successfully extracting trapped victims in dire emergencies.

Other Firefighting Vehicles

Some other truck types used by firefighters include:


Tankers, sometimes called water tenders, are like mobile reservoirs for hauling large volumes of water. They’re essential in rural areas without fire hydrants or areas with inadequate water supply. Tankers can refill pumper trucks and deliver water for sustained fire suppression.

Brush Trucks

These smaller trucks are designed for vegetation fires. They have four-wheel-drive for rough terrain access and carry wildfire equipment like chainsaws, backpack water pumps, and drip torches for controlled burning operations.

Air Units

Many large fire departments have aircraft for aerial firefighting and rescue. This includes helicopters and airplanes that can drop water and retardants on wildfires. Helicopters with hoists are also used for mountain and highrise rescues.


Fireboats are used by coastal and port cities. They have pumps for supplying water, firefighting monitors, and rescue capabilities.

Command Centers

Specialized command vehicles provide mobile incident management platforms for larger emergencies. They have communication equipment, computers, conference rooms, and emergency management resources.

Why Unique Names for Fire Trucks Matter

Firefighters assign special names to their trucks based on the vehicle’s distinct purpose. Calling something a ladder truck rather than just a fire truck immediately conveys that it has aerial capabilities. Using terms like tanker and brush truck tells other firefighters arriving on scene what role that vehicle plays.

The specific language gives clarity when coordinating multi-unit responses. If a battalion chief requests Engine 21 rather than a fire truck, everyone understands exactly what vehicle and capabilities are needed. This precision saves valuable time during emergencies.

The naming also reinforces that different fire apparatus serve very specialized functions. Each truck fulfills a crucial role according to its design and equipment. Firefighters train extensively on individual vehicles to leverage their full capabilities when lives hang in the balance.


Whether they call them fire engines, ladder trucks, rescue squads, or another name, firefighters know their vehicles inside and out. Their trucks truly become part of the team. Specially designed features allow these machines to tackle fires, medical emergencies, and accidents in ways that save lives. The right capabilities get dispatched to each response thanks to firefighters using precise terminology for the various apparatus types. So while they are all fire trucks to the general public, for the brave men and women operating them, the specific names carry great meaning.