Cantankerous Wisdom: Tillers & Quillers

Bill Adams goes into great detail about the quillers he saw at FDIC 2021.

By Bill Adams

Maybe I should hang it up and spend my remaining time strapped in a rocking chair drooling all over myself on the porch down at the Happy Valley Convalescent Home. Times are changing, and I have a hard time adjusting. Take ladder trucks as an example, and in particular tillers, also known as TDAs and tractor-drawn aerials. They’re probably called TDAs because people today can’t remember if there’s one or two L’s in tiller.

I recall the 1923 Stutz city-service ladder truck my father’s fire company ran in the early 1950s. He grumbled when they bought the 1953 75-foot Maxim aerial. He thought the world was coming to an end because they put doors on it. When we went into the “city” I became enamored with tillers, including the 1942 100-foot American La France at Ladder 5 (photo 1) and the 1927 American La France with a 75-foot wooden aerial at Reserve Ladder 6 (photo 2). The 1963 Maxim 100-footer tiller (photo 3) at Ladder 10 caused dad to say, “The damn thing’s got a roof on it; that’s blasphemy!” I agreed. When I joined the fire company in the early 1960s, Station 1 ran a 1957 Mack with a 75-foot Maxim ladder and Station 2 ran a 1932 Ahrens Fox city-service ladder. No pumps and no roofs and no doors on the Fox.

Fast track almost 60 years when hobbling around the 2021 Fire Department Instructor’s Conference (FDIC), I saw several tillers with pumps on them. I heard and read about them, but these were the first I saw up close. They’re called quillers, a take-off of the quint moniker. I never cared for quints, believing there’s only so much you can stuff into a 5-pound bag. Some brilliant bean counter must’ve thought the jobs of a staffed pumper and ladder could be accomplished with one rig and one crew carrying half the needed equipment. It must be the new math they teach these days. I thought a ladder truck with a pump was as stupid an idea as aluminum ladders, large diameter hose, automatic nozzles, seat belts, and automatic transmissions. It must have been dad’s influence.

Seeing the Light

I moved and joined a company that ran a quint—a Ford C-Series with a 1,000-gpm volume pump, a John Bean high-pressure pump and an 85-foot Grove aerial. The last department I belonged to ran a 1965 American La France with a 1,250-gpm pump and an 85-foot stick without a roof (photo 4)! The latter was a “neat” rig to work off of. It ran as a “real” ladder truck following the first due pumper and it only used its pump “when necessary”; ladder company work was its primary objective. I had a lot of experience on it and was on the purchasing committee when it was replaced with another quint in the 1990s. I saw the light and reluctantly accepted the philosophy of using quints, albeit reluctantly.

Photo 4

Do it Your Way

Despite being old and set in my ways, I acknowledge fire departments operate quints to meet the needs of individual response districts. Judgment is not made on how departments equip their quints, staff them, their running order, or their fireground procedures. That’s the fire departments’ business and not that of commentators—especially those that are not active firefighters.


Back to the FDIC’s quillers. They featured minimum 300-gallon tanks and 1,500-gpm pumps mounted on the horse. (Horse is old-timer’s talk for the tractor.) For the uneducated, it’s where the motor is and where the crew sits except for the firefighter driving the back end. None had beds for supply hose, so they’re dependent on another rig to supply a feeder line (aka water).

A 300-gallon tank isn’t much if a quiller is first on scene and the water supply rig is a ways off. However, 300 gallons and a preconnect is probably better than a couple 2½-gallon water cans. I understand the large capacity pump to supply the aerial device when the rig supplying it is sitting on a water source a distance away. Quillers with three preconnects are representative of what many “compliant” pumpers carry today.

The Manifold

To give credit to one quiller’s design, I must make note of a fireground scenario that baffles me. I’ve seen photos of two or three pumpers with large-capacity pumps at a worker each deploying a single attack line. It doesn’t make sense. In my mind, progressive departments use the closest pumper as a manifold to deploy multiple lines—even when staffed by another rig’s crew. Common procedure is to leave the front of a structure open for the ladder truck. In a quiller scenario, it makes sense for multiple preconnected attack lines. The quiller can be used as an at-the-front-door manifold. Brilliant!

Pump Houses

*There were several common-sensical features on the quillers’ pump houses. Some could be incorporated on pumpers with traditional pump houses. A Spartan (photos 5, 6, 7, and 8) and a KME (photo 9) had several.

*Both had 6-inch master gauges—easy to see when the pump operator is running around the rig doing other chores. The Spartan’s were located side-by-side on the left side and stacked vertically on the right side—efficient use of space.

*Each has five discharges. Do you really need more?

*Each has a single 2½-inch discharge and 2½-inch inlet on the operator’s panel. I would have moved them to the other side. Eliminating hose connections from the operator’s panel keeps him (or her) safe.

*The KME has two double-stacked crosslays with a swiveling elbow in each bed and a double-stacked dead lay between them.

*The Spartan had three single-stacked crosslays without swiveling elbows in the beds. One discharge was located on the exterior of the right side and two on the left side directly beneath the respective crosslay beds—easy to shorten or increase a preconnect’s length without climbing onto the rig.

*The Spartan has two full-width dry crosslay beds on the body beneath the aerial. One has a capacity of 400-feet of 2½-inch hose and the other is 400-feet of 3-inch hose. Having extra hose readily available for lengthening a line and adding additional ones is a good idea.


I think there was an additional quiller or two at FDIC, but I can’t remember and most of the pictures stored must be lost or have fallen out of the back of my computer. The grandkids aren’t close by so the missing pictures are gone forever. Despite having a Smartphone, I can’t retrieve all the photos I think I took with it.

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