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!