Do You Prefer Job-Specific Rescue Trucks?


I consider a rescue truck a support vehicle a fire department uses to augment its firefighting resources. Rescue trucks are not formally recognized by National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Apparatus. The standard identifies and has specific criteria for apparatus it classifies as pumpers, initial attacks, mobile water supply, aerials, quints, mobile foam apparatus, and special service fire apparatus, which is described in Chapter 10. Sentence A.3.3.164 in the appendix notes the services that could be performed by a special service apparatus, including “rescue, command, hazardous material containment, air supply, electrical generation and floodlighting, or transportation of support equipment and personnel.” In this article, a rescue truck is any support vehicle meeting Chapter 10’s requirements.

Chapter 10 provides a list of basic equipment that special service apparatus must carry regardless of the rig’s function or what it is called. The appendix also provides two lists of equipment that “could be considered” for a rig for “hazmat containment” and one for a rig to support “rescue operations.” I believe NFPA 1901 acknowledges that it is a local decision—as it should be—to establish the definition of, mission to accomplish, and equipment to be carried on a rescue truck. And, the fire department can call the rig whatever it chooses. (In many parts of New England and, in particular, Rhode Island, a rescue truck is a fire department operated ambulance.)

Whether a rescue truck is job-specific is also a local decision that should be contingent on the size and makeup of the fire department, available staffing, and the hazards in a response district. I do not address urban search and rescue (USAR) apparatus or regional (i.e., countywide) hazmat vehicles. Many large departments with unique hazards can justify and staff support vehicles on a 24/7 basis. My comments address small and midsize departments operating rescue trucks to complement fire suppression units.


The Rochester (NY) Fire Department is a typical midsize city department with 15 fire stations and career staffing for 13 engine companies, six truck (ladder) companies, and a heavy rescue with minimum staffing of four firefighters per company. It also provides a career driver for a volunteer-staffed salvage truck. Rochester’s hazards are typical of most midsize cities. The number of responses to “unique calls” requiring specialized apparatus doesn’t appear great enough to justify fully staffed job-specific support vehicles.

According to Captain Andy Lonthair (Special Projects), the fire department cross staffs specialized job-specific apparatus with the line companies they are housed with. Internally, they are called “jump” companies. Engine 2 jumps with Water Rescue 1. Engine 3 jumps with Foam 1. Engine 13 and Truck 10 jump with Technical Rescue 1 and Technical Rescue 2. Engine 17 and Rescue 11 jump with Hazmat 1 and Hazmat 2. The support apparatus are job-specific in design and equipment carried. In addition, Engine 19 staffs Gator 1, Truck 3 staffs Gator 2, and Engine 2 staffs Boat 1.

Job-specific apparatus saves overloading Rochester’s heavy rescue, which is primarily used for extrication and general fireground support. Rescue 11 has a 206-inch wheelbase, a 20,000-pound front gross axle weight rating (GAWR), and a 27,000-pound rear GAWR with an 18-foot-long walk-around rescue body, and it is full. The salvage company, called the Protectives, eliminates the need for the rescue to carry dewatering pumps, salvage covers, large numbers of spare self-contained breathing apparatus bottles, extra lighting, and smoke ejectors. Requiring Rescue 11 to carry the equipment currently carried on the water rescue unit, the two hazmat units, and the two technical rescue units is out of the question. There’s not enough room. Attempting to do so could result in making a decision to eliminate some equipment. I and other commentators have previously mentioned that a multipurpose apparatus is like a Swiss army knife. It can do a lot of things but it can’t do any one thing very well. The same applies to multimission rescue trucks. The preceding comments reflect my opinion and not Rochester’s.


Most smaller volunteer outfits morphed into rescue trucks when newer tools and appliances became popular and their suppression apparatus didn’t have the room to carry the latest and greatest equipment on the market. Bread-type vans graduated into the huge tandem axle rescue trucks commonly seen today. Extraordinary space is required to house auto extrication, hazmat, confined space, building collapse equipment, and whatever is required to address the local hazards a department may encounter such as water-related emergencies.

Hazards in volunteer response districts can mirror those found in career entities in scope and size. Similar equipment may be necessary, and the same Swiss army knife analogy pertains. Rescue trucks designed primarily for vehicle extrication can themselves be very large, as can well-equipped rescues designed for general fireground support. Combining those two functions alone in a single rig may result in it being too long, too high, and too overloaded. Volunteer drivers may be intimidated if a rescue truck has a longer wheelbase than the ladder truck. Conversely, big rigs are very common. Mike Marquis, vice-president of Rescue 1, says, “The majority of heavy rescues being spec’d and built by Rescue 1 have multiple requirements (missions).” He noted that the last several walk-around heavy rescues built on custom cabs and chassis had gross vehicle weight ratings of 50,000 pounds and up.

Staffing can be a major consideration in choosing a multifunction or job-specific rescue truck. If financial considerations and housing are not major factors, I prefer to use whatever staffing is available to crew up a well-equipped job-specific rescue truck. Because of unpredictable staffing in some volunteer entities and cash-strapped municipalities, rescue-pumpers have become commonplace, thereby adding more equipment to be carted to the scene on one rig. Some departments mandate that a pumper respond to all scenes regardless of the call type.

Perhaps a two-piece company is the answer. Roll the pumper with one of its crew assigned to drive a job-specific rescue truck—perhaps one for auto extrication, or one for general fireground support, or one equipped for whatever unique hazard must be addressed. If a pumper always responds, an inexpensive commercial cab and chassis with limited seating could be used for the job-specific rescue. Older apparatus scheduled for disposal could also be used, providing maintenance issues are not too severe. Fire departments without ladder company service should note that the Insurance Services Office (ISO) Fire Suppression Rating Schedule requires a service company to respond to structural alarms along with two engines. It describes a service company and the equipment it should carry. Unbeknownst to some small departments, an adequately equipped rescue truck, albeit job-specific, may assist in a community’s ISO rating. Often referred to as a large toolbox on wheels, rescue trucks today have transformed into highly specialized support units.

BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.

No posts to display