An Argument for Redesigning Fire Apparatus

Modern firefighting vehicles are fitted to perform a wide range of tasks, of which the most important is battling major fire. They come with pumps, hydraulic ladders, tanks that can hold roughly 400 to 500 gallons of water–enough to put out a vehicle fire–and a slew of other equipment. They also have enough space to transport up to eight firefighters.

Yet fighting actual fire makes up only a small portion of a firefighter’s job. Of the 31.9 million calls routed to all U.S. fire departments in 2013, only 1.2 million (or about 4 percent) were fire-related, according to the latest data from the National Fire Protection Association. Most of the time they’re attending to other emergencies, including road accidents — the very ones city street designers try to prevent, as Mother Nature Network points out. Still others take on “eclectic” roles.

Overall, America is behind the curve when it comes to rethinking the fire truck. As Lloyd Alter writes at Mother Nature Network, Europe, where street lanes tend to be tighter, has a line of compact fire trucks that perform the same tasks as those in the U.S. but are far more maneuverable. Watch as two fire engines–one from the U.S. and the other from Europe–drive around an obstacle of cones:

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