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What Is a Water Tender?

By T. L. Childree
Updated May 23, 2024
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A water tender is tank-equipped truck that is primarily used for transporting water to a fire scene. This truck is designed for drawing water from lakes, streams, and fire hydrants. It typically serves as support equipment for larger fire engines. A water tender is sometimes utilized to help control wildfires. This vehicle also serves as an airport crash tender and for cleaning up hazardous materials.

Firefighters typically connect a pumper truck to a nearby hydrant to supply water to high-pressure fire hoses. In rural areas, the nearest fire hydrant may be too remote for the hoses to reach. Fires that occur along highways may be miles from the nearest hydrant. A nearby fire hydrant may also be rendered inoperable due to an earthquake, explosion, or other disaster. A water tender is usually deployed in these instances to supply the pumper trucks.

A water tender is designed and equipped to draw water from lakes, streams, and rivers. It can also be connected to a fire hydrant to fill its tank. A typical water tender is equipped with a 1,000 gallon (3,800 liter) tank. Larger or smaller versions of this tank may also be deployed. Some of these vehicles may also pull an additional storage tank holding up to 5,000 gallons (18,000 liters) of water.

The vehicle’s built-in pump is usually not powerful enough for any large-scale, firefighting tasks. Its primary firefighting role is to bring a portable water supply to a fire scene. The water tender’s tank is connected to the pumper truck to supply the high-pressure fire hoses. Many modern fire departments have at least one of these vehicles in their fleet for special circumstances. This vehicle is often an essential piece of equipment for rural areas with few fire hydrants.

Specially-equipped water tenders are often employed to control wildfires and small brush fires. These vehicles are typically fitted with a 250 gallon (1,800 liter) tank. They are also equipped with a remote controlled water hose and nozzle that can be operated while the vehicle is being driven. The tender is typically used to extinguish smoldering debris left behind after large-scale firefighting efforts. Some of these vehicles are equipped with a four-wheel drive mechanism for navigating rough, forest terrain.

In addition to its traditional firefighting role, a water tender can also be utilized in several other ways. Many airport emergency crews use this vehicle to carry foaming agents to a plane-crash site. A water tender may also carry special chemicals to a hazardous material spill. Some of these vehicles are also equipped for transporting specialized firefighting and rescue equipment to remote locations.

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