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What is a Fire Engine?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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A fire engine is a motor vehicle which is designed to carry personnel and equipment which can be used to fight fires. Many people use the term “fire apparatus” or “fire truck” to describe such vehicles, as the term “fire engine” can be used to refer to a specific type of fire truck. There are a number of different types of fire trucks, ranging from lightweight wildland firefighting apparatus which is designed to travel off-road to massive ladder trucks which can allow firefighters to reach the upper stories of a building.

In many cases, a fire truck fulfills only one function. A tanker, for example, is used to transport water or chemical fire suppressant to the site of a fire, while a pumper, also called a fire engine, has an engine which can be used to pump water from a tanker, hydrant, or another water source. Hose trucks carry lengths of hose along with tools, while other trucks are equipped with ladders or hydraulic platforms for reaching high fires. In addition, fire departments often have rescue vehicles with medical equipment. It is also possible to see multi-function fire trucks.

Several companies around the world manufacture fire trucks. These trucks are designed to endure for decades, with some fire departments using fire trucks which are over 50 years old, especially in rural areas, where budgets do not allow for the purchase of the latest and greatest equipment. Fire trucks are also very heavy-duty, because they need to carry large amounts of gear, and they are designed to be driven rapidly to the site of a fire, with a variety of auditory and visual warnings to clear people from the road.

In addition to being used to actually fight fires, a fire engine may also be used as an educational and public relations tool for a fire department. Fire departments which offer fire safety lessons for schools and businesses may bring a fire engine to the lesson to allow people to explore the truck, and to provide a ready assortment of tools and uniforms to demonstrate. Fire trucks are also used in parades and other civic events to increase visibility for the fire department, and they typically stand by at major events in case a rapid fire response is needed.

In addition to working fire engines which are used on calls, some fire departments keep what are known as muster vehicles. Muster vehicles are antique fire trucks which have been carefully maintained to retain their vintage character, and these vehicles are displayed at events known as musters, which typically involve gatherings of multiple fire departments. Muster trucks may also be used ceremonially in parades, with some departments also using muster trucks in funeral professions for fallen comrades.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WikiMotors researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By Drentel — On Feb 26, 2014

I was one of those little boys who wanted the toy fire engine when I went to the toy store. I had several of them as a kid. Even now, I would get a thrill out of taking a turn behind the wheel of one of the real fire engine trucks.

By Sporkasia — On Feb 25, 2014

Fire fighting has come a long way since those early brigades in Ancient Egypt. Today, the equipment is more advanced and much noisier. Fires are not happy occurrences, but hearing the sirens and watching the fire trucks roll out of the stations and towards an emergency is exciting-- loud, but exciting all the same.

By Animandel — On Feb 24, 2014

Forgive me if I am being sexist, but is there a little boy who does not love fire engines? For boys of a certain age, a gift wrapped red fire engine toy is a can't miss birthday or Christmas gift.

Whenever our local fire department has an open house, the kids immediately rush to the fire engine, and by the looks on their faces you can tell they are in absolute awe of the vehicles.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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