Everyone knows what a fire truck is. However, technically speaking, if you’re in a conversation with a firefighter, and you point to a fire truck, he or she may tell you that’s actually a fire engine. So, what’s the difference?
(Spoiler Alert: the term “engine” as part of “fire engine” doesn’t refer to the motor that powers the wheels).
One way to think about it is that “fire truck” is the most general term. It includes several specific types of firefighting vehicles, which have their own names. It’s like the term “car” represents several specific automobiles, such as a sedan, a convertible, a sports car, an SUV or a compact. Having said that, there’s also a specific fire department vehicle referred to as a fire truck.
So, to emphasize the most fundamental point: a “fire truck” could be almost any vehicle used by the fire department, although there are several specific types of trucks, such as a Pumper Truck, Turntable Ladder Truck, Heavy Rescue Vehicle, Water Tenders and more.
But we’re trying to be more accurate here. The most basic point to understand about a fire “engine” is that it refers to the “pump”, which is the device that propels water onto a fire. Today, “fire engine” refers to a fire department vehicle that carries water and pumps water.
Technically speaking, fire engines and fire trucks perform different functions at a fire scene. Fire engines are equipped with hoses and water (and a pump) so that personnel can fight the fire. On the other hand, fire trucks are additional vehicles, which carry big ladders, rescue equipment, and other tools to support firefighting activities.
Modern fire engines also carry hand ladders and their compartments contain first aid gear, tools and may include a “jaws of life.”
Some engines also have an apparatus for delivering a massive volume of water in a hurry. (Deluge gun is an example).
In brief, a fire engine is the most common type of fire vehicle we see.
A fire truck is a vehicle with a big, fixed ladder. Some fire trucks are articulated, which means there’s a driver at the front and rear of the vehicle. The big ladder may or may not have a basket on the end for firefighters to stand in. And the ladders usually always have a nozzle (or two) so a hose can be set up from a high point to help douse flames.
The big ladder can be critical in rescue operations. There are usually outriggers that stabilize the truck when it is being set up to deploy the ladder. Fire trucks may have a pump to supply water to the ladder nozzles. However, fire trucks usually don’t have a water tank like a fire engine. This means fire trucks need to pump water from a fire hydrant or other source.
So to make things simple, the main identifying characteristic between a fire truck and a fire engine is the big ladder of a fire truck. And the primary utility of a fire engine is its water tank and water pump.
A fire engine is usually the first piece of equipment sent to a fire.
A fire truck will be called out for structure fires and other situations where additional manpower is needed.
However, when it comes down to the practical reality of putting out fires, the differences between a fire engine and a fire truck are less important than the teamwork required between all firefighters to extinguish the fire and save lives.
Finally, the terms fire truck and fire engine are in fact used interchangeably by some folks, so bear in mind that if you include these points in a conversation, some individuals may think you’re getting a bit persnickety if you emphasize the distinction. (Just saying!)