5 Minute Firefighter

5 minutes of training per day

Fire Department Unit Types

Most people know that when they have a fire, a fire truck will come. What kind of truck comes, most have no idea. When they call for an ambulance and a fire truck shows up, they really get confused. This will hopefully explain a bit more what exactly the differences are and why. 

Fire Engines

This is what most people think of when you say fire truck. A fire engine is a truck that has a pump, bringing water and hose to the scene. Now it carries much more than just hose and water, but without the hose and water, the fire won’t go out. Most fire engines follow a standard package of equipment of usually 500 to 1000 gallons of water, multiple sizes and lengths of hoses, multiple ground ladders and lots of other smaller tools. Of course they will bring the firefighters and medical people also. 

Ladder Trucks

Ladder Trucks also come in many shapes and sizes. Some smaller communities will not have these trucks at all. Ladders are usually broken down into aerials, towers and snorkels. They may have also have a pump, but most do not have water or hose. Ladder companies are often specially trained in other non-firefighting tactics like vehicle extrication, confined space or rope rescue. While they don’t have water, hose, or a pump, ladders are designed to be able to flow water from a higher elevation in a larger fire. They will receive water from a fire engine and will direct the flow through a pipe and nozzle mounted on the aerial.

Aerials are also know as “Sticks”, they have a straight ladder mounted on the top of the truck and can be anywhere from 50 to 200 feet in length. Aerials are designed to extend directly into a window or onto a roof and a firefighter will climb up the ladder to perform the work or the rescue.

Towers are basically aerials that have a bucket for the firefighters to ride in mounted at the end. Two or three firefighters will enter the bucket at the ground level and controls in the bucker will lift them to where they need to be. Tactics are the same, but while a bit more cumbersome, the bucket can be easier and safer to work from. 

Snorkels or “Bucket” trucks are not as popular as they used to be, but many can still be found around the country. This is a cross between aerials and towers, because a bucket is mounted on two, or three booms and instead of extending and retracting, they are fixed in size and articulate into position. These trucks can be a bit harder to operate, but they are useful when they can go up and over an obstacle. 

Smeal Snorkel Truck
Smeal Snorkel
Pierce – Tower
E-1 Aerial

Rescue Trucks

Rescue trucks are another specialized piece of equipment. They are often referred to a “Rolling Toolbox” because they come with tools to fix all of your problems. Rescues are usually staffed with the most experienced and well trained firefighters. They have had extensive training in specialties such as confined space, vehicle extrication, trench rescue, roper rescue and advanced level firefighting. These trucks don’t carry water, hose, or ladders, but they have just about everything else! 

Chief’s Car

Chiefs cars are staffed by a higher ranking officer that provides oversight to all of the engines, ladders and rescues under their command. Chiefs will respond to the scene and provide incident command and control for any incident. They will respond with radios, computers and other command boards to track personnel and control strategy and tactics. 

If you have any additional questions, feel free to reach out at info@5minuteff.com!

CAD – Computer Aided Dispatch

Let’s start the process by talking about CAD or Computer Aided Dispatch. There are a number of different programs out there that help 911 dispatchers and call takers work through a 911 call. A CAD program is designed to handle everything from entering call data to sending out the call to the appropriate units. 

Some of the more popular CAD systems are 

Tyler Technologies 


Central Square


Which ever one you choose they all function similarly. A 911 calltaker answers the phone and asks the caller what their emergency is. They then proceed to take important information like name, address, callback number, what kind of emergency is it? Fire, Police, EMS? They have a new call screen that they begin to fill out and select a call type such as “Motor Vehicle Accident”. In a bigger call center, this will trigger both the Police dispatcher to start police units to that location and update them as additional notes get entered. At the same time the Fire and EMS dispatchers are notified and they send out a Fire truck and Ambulance as well. Most communities have run assignments that indicate for a specific call type to send specific units. 

For example in our city when a Motor Vehicle Accident call type is selected and the dispatcher has the location, they hit a recommendations button. This button when hit will search the run assignment for what is recommended for a MVA. In this case its an Engine and an Ambulance. It will then search for the closest Engine and Medic unit to that location based on GPS data. It will select those units and send them the information for the call. 

In a smaller, more rural area, a single person might take down all the information on paper and notify proper units by radio or even phone.

True CAD systems have a multitude of capabilities. They can process any number of calls for Police, Fire, EMS, Animal Control, or non-emergency agencies. It can store maps, fire hydrant locations, pre-plans, gate codes, and lots of other things. 

Mapping is another nice feature for a CAD system. When maps are loaded into CAD, usually through a GIS department, they can add all kinds of additional data to make emergencies easier to deal with. Once a caller gives a call taker the location information and its verified as an address point on the map, a pin appears for the call location. Once responders have a valid location, it can be cross-referenced with any stored information in CAD such as a gate code, any hazardous materials that may be located there, or perhaps a violent offender from a previous call. Maps will allow units to get turn by turn directions directly to their computer, or ipad and get them to the location quicker. When a bridge or road is closed, a roadblock can be placed on a CAD map and if a call in that area is dispatched, routing will automatically go in a different direction and show responders that the bridge, or road is closed.

CAD systems are not cheap and can cost a city hundreds of thousands of dollars or more. Most systems come with different packages to include CAD, Mapping, Fire documentation, police documentation and EMS documentation programs. Some have smaller inventory, and scheduling add-ons as well. Most municipalities go though vetting processes over a year or more to evaluate, and compare numerous CAD vendors before choosing the best one for them.

While costly, a fully capable CAD system is an invaluable tool for any Public Safety system and can reduce response times, getting Public Safety professionals to the emergencies quicker. If you have any questions on CAD vendors, or the 911 process in general please email me at 

info@5minuteff.com. More to come! 

Introduction to the Public Safety Experience


I want to start off this site by explaining a little bit of what you can expect. In this world you are either a Public Safety Provider or your a public safety customer, Either way there is a lot to cover. As a provider we are always looking for a better way to do things, or a better tool to help us do a job. As a customer, you deserve to understand just how things really are and what you can expect of your providers. This blog and VLOG are here to help answer all those questions and more.

Departments nationwide are working with their communities to better understand their needs and to help become partners in the joint venture of providing the best Fire, Police and Medical services possible. As we move along here, if you think of anything, you can always contact me and I will do my best to answer your questions, or at least make my best attempt to.

Lets start with the basics. In most communities, when a customer needs help, they call 911. The person that answers the phone could be just about anyone, depending on the size of the community and the department. Some cities have large independently operated state of the art 911 centers. These centers have the ability to process calls, provide Enhanced 911, Emergency Medical Dispatch, use AVL and assist responding units all the way through to the completion of the call. Now that may be a lot of information that you don’t understand, but we will cover all of this in the future.

On the other end of the spectrum, you may call 911 and get a single person who dispatches for just their agency, Fire, Police or EMS and they cannot provide anything that we just covered, but they will get you help. Whichever situation you are in, I am here to help you understand just what you can expect and how it all works.

Fire Departments

Fire Departments come in many shapes and sizes and have many different capabilities depending on the jurisdiction. I have worked around and with a volunteer fire department with 20 members and one fire truck to the department I work with now that has 400 people and over 50 apparatus. This is still considered a small urban department. Looking at the most famous fire department in the world, FDNY, they have right around 11,000 firefighters and over 430 apparatus running calls daily.

Over 80% of the fire departments in the US are volunteer, or mostly volunteer, so most of you will get a volunteer department when you call 911 for a fire. This means that you may get people responding from home, going to the fire station, picking up the fire truck and responding to your house. Some volunteers actually live full-time or part-time in their stations and can respond much sooner. Of course career firefighters are in the stations, or out in the trucks and will respond right away. Many volunteer departments have hired people to staff the trucks during the daytime hours when most people are working and they go off duty in the early evening, when everyone arrives back at home.

Staffing can be very different in most cities and towns as well. You can get a single driver arrive with a truck, with people meeting them at the scene, or you can expect a fire truck to arrive to four to six career firefighters in a larger city. The only way you can answer what your community has, is to check with your local departments themselves. Sometimes it is just as easy to look up your local departments online. Many departments have their own websites with all of this information available to their citizens.


EMS is very similar to the fire department and often is the exact same department. Many fire departments run the ambulances, while others have independent EMS agencies that are separate from Fire. Everything else operates much like the fire departments in that they can be volunteer, paid or a combination of both. My department runs both fire and ems and our firefighters rotate onto both the fire truck one day and the ambulance the next. Larger departments like FDNY run both, but separate. When you get hired by FDNY you either go into the EMS division or the Fire division, there are no firefighters that ride the ambulances and vice vs.


The police departments around the country are almost all career. Ranging from small departments that may have only one officer, up to a larger metro department that can have over 30,000 officers, police have a wide variety of capabilities. Police come in many varieties. Local town cops, county sheriffs, highway patrols and metropolitan officers. Many areas have kept officers with policing powers that have always been present in their history. Growing up in rural NY, we had local police departments in our town with five officers on duty a day. We also had county sheriffs that patrolled the street and ran the jail across the whole county with about the same numbers of officers. We also had NY State Troopers who also responded to house calls and had about 5 or 6 units in any particular region. In the early 70s and 80s, you could pick up your phone and call what ever police department you wanted to come, because there was no 911, only individual department phone numbers. In the 90s AVL became more popular in that area, so now you call 911 and you get the closest officer based on their GPS signal. Much has changed over the years, but not everyone has caught up to utilize modern technology yet.


This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to what is out there for Public Safety. Keep with me for more information as we dive deeper into all of these topics in the future. As always send in your questions if you have any.

Contact me : info@5minuteff.com

Welcome to 5 Minute Firefighting!

This website is dedicated to quick, 5 minute informational topics that will help you learn something new each day. Everyone can benefit from these topics. Every person is either a Public Safety Provider, or a Public Safety Customer. Through posts and videos I hope to teach you something new each and every time!