Pumping apparatus

Since water is the primary agent used to fight fires, vehicles equipped with pumps are very common in the fire service. The earliest had hand operated pumps powered by groups of firefighters. Muscle power was eventually replaced by steam engines and finally internal combustion engines. While the methods have changed the purpose of these vehicles has not. 

Engines or Pumpers are the backbone of the fire service. Triple Combination Pumper, Class A Pumper,  Type 1 Engine,  Structure Engine, Triple, Engine, Pumper and Wagon are just some of the names used used for these vehicles. The primary purpose of a pumper is to extinguish building fires but they are used for many other tasks as well. 

While the earliest pumpers only carried a pump, modern fire engines typically carry 500 to 1000 gallons of water, pump 750-2000 gallons of water per minute, carry more than one thousand feet of hose and have a large assortment of fire and rescue equipment including a small selection of ladders.  

Pumpers can be built using a commercial cab and chassis or a custom chassis specifically designed to be used for fire apparatus. The advantage of a commercial chassis is primarily the cost, while custom chassis have an advantage in layout, more space for seating personnel and storing equipment.    


Pumper on a custom chassis Pumper on a commercial chassis


Engines carrying 1000 gallons of water or more are sometimes called a Pumper-Tanker or Pumper-Tender, a Pumper-Tanker is basically a water tender (more on Tenders below) with a 1000 gallon per minute or larger pump and enough storage space to carry the hose and equipment needed by a pumper, many pumper-tankers have tandem rear axles due to the extra weight. 

Another hybrid is the Telesquirt or just Squirt, this is an engine with an elevating nozzle, but as these usually also include a lightweight ladder on the boom Squirts can easily be mistaken for a Quint (more on Quints under the Trucks section below). The feature that sets a Telesquirt apart from a Quint is the number of ladders carried. Telesquirts usually only carry a few ladders like an engine, trucks carry a much larger selection. The elevating device ranges from 40 to 85 feet fully extended, 50 feet being a common length. Quads and Quints are also related to engines but these will be discussed under the Truck section. 

Pumper-Tanker Telesquirt


The earliest organized fire departments had pumpers and hose carts or wagons, water being supplied by bucket brigade, tank trailer, static sources (wells, cisterns, ponds etc) or piped water (the term fire plug comes from the wooden plugs used to access water in the early water pipe systems), this combination of vehicles remained the standard until the early 20th century. 

Hand pumper Hose wagon


Horses replaced the crews of firemen who originally pulled the apparatus, then in the late 1800's steam power replaced the hand operated pumps, and in the early 20th century the gasoline motor began to replace both horses and steam power. With motorization combination vehicles started appearing, ladder/ hose wagons, chemical / hose wagons etc. By the late 1920's triple combination pumpers began appearing, these vehicles were self sufficient carrying a water tank, a pump and a supply of hose all on one vehicle but it took another 30 years for these vehicles to become well established in the fire service. Another type of apparatus was the High Pressure battery, these were large bore monitors (large mounted nozzles) capable of flowing at least 1000 gallons per minute these were used for fighting particularly large fires. In the horse drawn era these were single purpose appliances but many were added to combination vehicles as motorization took over. As most modern pumpers include a monitor capable of flowing 500-1000 gallons per minute dedicated high pressure batteries have become fairly rare but they still remain in some departments.


Steam pumper High pressure battery


The Hose wagon / pumper combination remained fairly popular through the first half of the 20th century. This was partly tradition but mostly because the trucks were small making it difficult to put a useful amount of hose, water and equipment onto one vehicle. Single purpose hose wagons have continued to survive although in smaller numbers, they are primarily used to supply extra hose at large fires or disasters. In earthquake prone areas they often carry large diameter hose and special appliances to allow a fire boat to supply water in areas where the water mains have been damaged.

Although modern trucks are large enough to combine these functions there are parts of the United States that prefer to run two part Pumper / Wagon companies. In use the Pumper goes to the water source while the wagon lays hose from the pumper to the fire, the wagon usually has a larger crew and carries more equipment since it will be closer to the fire. This can be an advantage in areas with marginal water supplies since water can be pushed through the hose for hundreds of feet but can only be "pulled" about 30 feet. 


Chemical Units are another type of pumper introduced in the 1800's that survived well into the 20th century, they are also called chemical wagons, or chemical cars. Instead of using a mechanical pump to provide pressure they use chemistry. These were basically giant fire extinguishers mounted on a horse drawn cart and later a car or truck chassis. They carried one or more tanks of water and mixed sulfuric acid with sodium bicarbonate to create the needed pressure (much like the child's science experiment combining baking soda and vinegar). When the chemicals were mixed together it created the required force to push the water through a hose. While these vehicles did not carry a large amount of water they were fast often reaching a fire while it was still small. These vehicles began to fade away during the 1930's when the speed and agility of larger trucks improved, but they were still fairly common into the mid 1940's. Similar vehicles using carbon dioxide instead of a chemical mixture to create pressure were also used, these began appearing in the 1920's. In recent years small vehicles using compressed air and foam instead of a pump have started to show up, in many ways these could be considered the decendants of the chemical unit.

Chemical car

The Chemical unit was not the last experiment with small pumpers, currently there are two common uses for light duty trucks, the Mini-Pumper and the Brush Truck. 


Mini and Midi Pumpers are compact versions of the standard pumper. There is some debate about the usefulness of the Mini-Pumper but so far it has managed to survive. It has 2 major advantages over full size apparatus. The first is cost, typically a Mini-Pumper is only about 1/3 the price of a full size Engine, this allows a department to get several small pumpers for the price of one large pumper, or for some small communities this may mean the difference between having a small but modern pumper instead of a larger antique. The second is access, full size pumpers are heavy (15-20 tons), long, (typically 30 feet or more), and tall (often 10-13 feet high). In comparison the typical Mini-Pumper weighs only 5 to 8 tons and is not much larger than a full size pick up truck, many also have 4 wheel drive. For rural areas with narrow unpaved roads, low overhangs and bridges with weight restrictions the Mini-Pumper can easily get to places a larger pumper might not be able to get to at all. On the down side most Mini-Pumpers are limited to carrying 300 gallons of water or less and only pump about 500 gallons per minute (or about 1/2 the capacity of a typical full size pumper). Also most mini-Pumpers only carry a small extension ladder and they have much less space for carrying equipment. Mini-Pumpers are not limited to rural areas, some departments use them as special purpose or fast attack vehicles complementing rather than replacing larger pumpers. 

A related vehicle is the Midi-Pumper, these are similar to Mini-Pumpers but they use a small medium duty truck chassis instead of a 1 ton truck. The Midi-pumper is a compromise between a full size pumper and a Mini-Pumper offering better pump capacity, a larger water tank and more storage space than a mini-pumper, while still being smaller, lighter (most are under 13 tons) and less expensive than a full size pumper. Most midi-pumpers do not require a special drivers license which can be an advantage for a fire department. The line between a Midi-Pumper and an Interface Engine (more under Brush Trucks) can be hard to determine since it is often based on the intended use instead of the actual vehicle. Midi-Pumpers typically carry the same ladder complement as a full size pumper.

Mini-pumper Midi-pumper


Brush Trucks are very similar in appearance to Mini/Midi-Pumpers but are far less controversial, these are pumpers designed for wildland fires. There are two basic versions, small pumpers built on a light duty truck chassis and large pumpers built on a medium or heavy duty truck chassis. Brush trucks usually have 4 wheel drive but that is not a requirement. Most have pumps powered by the trucks motor through a power take off or by a separate gasoline or diesel engine. This is different from most structure fire pumpers that use a transfer case to provide power to the pump or the wheels (they can pump or drive, not both at the same time). Since Brush trucks use a power take off or a separate motor to power the pump, they can pump on the move (pump and roll), which is a big advantage when fighting a fast moving wildfire. 

Light Brush trucks typically have tanks carrying 100 to 300 gallons of water and a pump capable of pumping 30-250 gallons per minute, many are just a pick up truck with a tank and pump placed in the bed. Some Light Brush trucks are are actually mini-pumpers used for both wildland and structure fires. 

Light brush truck Light brush truck


Heavy brush trucks typically carry 300 to 1000 gallons of water or more. Their pumps are capable of pumping 60-500 gallons per minute. Typically Brush trucks carry large amounts of small diameter hose, as well as chainsaws and hand tools. They may carry some tools for fighting structure fires but this is often limited to only the most basic equipment. 

Heavy brush truck Heavy brush truck

A new vehicle is the Interface Engine, this is a cross between the Brush Truck and the Midi-Pumper, it has evolved due to the increase of homes in the wildland interface (the area where city meets wilderness). Interface Pumpers combine many of the features of Brush trucks with those of the Midi-pumper. They have larger pumps than most brush engines and are generally capable of pumping 500-1000 gallons per minute, they are also outfitted with more equipment for fighting structure fires than most brush trucks.


Mobile Water Supply, Water-tenders, Tenders, or Tankers  are vehicles designed to supply water to areas without built in water systems. There is some controversy in the name of these water trucks, in much of the United States these vehicles are called Tankers, but in most Western states they are Water-tenders or just Tenders. In the west a Tanker is a fixed wing aircraft used to drop water or retardant on wildland fires. This can cause confusion when firefighters from different geographic regions are talking about fire equipment. A generic term for these vehicles is Mobile Water Supply.

Whatever the name they are are very common in rural areas for supporting operations at structure and wildland fires. These vehicles vary from slightly modified water trucks to highly specialized vehicles. They generally have pumps capable of pumping 50 to 500 gallons per minute, and carry 1000 to 10,000 gallons of water. Many also carry portable water tanks which resemble above ground swimming pools. Rear and / or side dump chutes for quickly filling these portable tanks are also common. Another feature often seen is sprayers at the front, rear and/or sides. These allow the tender to water roads reducing dust, or pre-treating an area to help slow an oncoming fire. By driving along the edge of the fire line these sprayers can make the vehicle an effective firefighting unit. It is not uncommon to see 4x4, 6x6 or even 8x8 tenders. Ex-military 2 1/2 ton and 5 ton tank trucks are often converted into inexpensive off road capable water tenders.  The line between a water-tender and heavy brush truck can be hard to determine, in some areas these borderline vehicles are called tactical water-tenders since they can be used to directly suppress a fire or to supply water. A related vehicle is the Pumper-Tanker mentioned earlier. 

Tender Tender



Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting (ARFF) vehicles commonly known as Crash Rescue or Crash Trucks are a specialized type of pumper designed to suppress fires involving aircraft. Typically they have remote turrets capable of flowing 250 to 1000 gallons of water per minute or more, they also carry 500 to 6000 thousand gallons of water and foam. Most are all wheel drive with some off road performance since aircraft often crash away from the runway, most also have the ability to pump while moving. These vehicles vary in size from that of a typical structure engine to eight or even ten wheeled giants. Some vehicles are equipped with an elevated nozzle capable of being used to pierce an aircrafts outer skin to reach a fire within the aircraft, vehicles with these articulating booms have been nick-named snozzles. 

Crash Truck Snozzle


Crash Trucks also have a smaller relative, the Twin agent unit or TAU. These are built on a light duty truck chassis and can discharge a dry chemical firefighting agent in addition to foam and water. These may be found at small airfields that cannot justify the expense of a full sized Crash Truck or may be found complementing Crash Trucks with their greater speed and agility. 

Twin Agent Unit

ARFF vehicles generally carry rescue equipment to assist with removal of victims from the aircraft and may also carry structural or wildland firefighting equipment since many departments have them perform double duty as a structure pumper or rescue truck in addition to their aircraft firefighting role. 


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