Is It a Pumper-Rescue or a Rescue-Pumper?

Bill Adams

The trendiest rig in the fire service today is the pumper-rescue. Its popularity has steadily increased during the past few decades with trade journals expounding on the subject for just as long. Some fire departments pride themselves when specifying one, thinking they’ve just reinvented the wheel. Fire apparatus manufacturers have embraced the concept with innovative designs and aggressive marketing and have done a respectable job doing so. It has almost become the industry standard for pumpers.

Amazingly, fire departments are rushing out to purchase, manufacturers are building, and apparatus pundits are eagerly reporting about fire trucks that have no formal definition, adhere to no specific regulatory standard, and embrace-as new-a concept introduced in the early 1950s. There are no industrywide accepted design criteria and no recognized standard specification. Nor is there any agreement on what to call it. Other than being compliant with National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, for a pumper, there is no clear-cut job description for the “other half” of its name.

In actuality, a pumper-rescue, or whatever you choose to call it, is a concept. It’s a theory-a philosophy of design easily adaptable to meet the individual needs of many. It seems to be working. The adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” may have merit.

Boston's Engine-Squads 14 and 53
(1, 2) Taken by unknown photographers in the early 1960s, these photos show
Boston’s Engine-Squads 14 and 53. In the mid 1950s, the Robinson Boiler Works
rebuilt five 1948-era Mack hose wagons with “rescue/squad” style bodies, 750-gpm
pumps, 400-gallon tanks, and overhead ladder racks. [Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Bill
Noonan, Boston Fire Department (ret.).]


Pumpers, or engines, have been around since day one and need no further explanation. It’s generally accepted that the first rescue company was organized in New York, New York, in 1915. From the Fire Department Journal-a History of Boston Rescue Companies, by Firefighter William Noonan, Boston, Massachusetts, followed in 1917, eventually having three heavy rescues on its roster. Noonan says in his book, “In 1954, the fire commissioner decided that the city needed only one heavy rescue company and he would create five engine-squad companies spread around the city. Rescue Co. 1 was deactivated, and some of the rescue equipment was transferred to the wagon of Engine Co. 7. They would respond to rescue calls with their wagon only and fire calls with both rigs. At times they were called Squad 7 on the department radio.”

Job-specific pumper-rescue bodies may have also originated in Boston. The Boston Fire Historical Society’s Web site notes that Engine 14’s 1948 Mack hose wagon was one of five rebuilt around 1955 with 750-gallon-per-minute (gpm) pumps, 400-gallon booster tanks, and a “Robinson rescue/squad” body. The Robinson Boiler Works, of Cambridge, Massachusetts, built pumpers and hose wagons for departments throughout New England. Running as Engine-Squad 14, it featured high side compartments on both sides, a narrow pump house, and a tilt-down overhead ladder rack-a close prototype for today’s pumper-rescue designs. As a premonition of things to come, Boston’s 1954 annual report reflected not only the creation of the five engine-squads running as single-piece companies, it showed the closing of four engine and four ladder companies and eliminating the hose wagon on nine additional two-piece engine companies. Hello, quints, quads, squads, rescue-pumpers, downsizing, and limited staffing. History is repeating itself.

(3) Summit delivered this complex unit lettered Engine Rescue 101 to
Worthington, Ohio. (Photo courtesy of Summit Fire Apparatus.)



Boston combined a two-piece engine company and a rescue company into one rig and called it an engine-squad. Compliant with NFPA 1901 as a pumper, it carried some of the tools a heavy rescue would. Some is a key word. The FDNY operates several pumpers with extra compartmentation it calls squads. They are pumpers that can function as a truck or engine company, albeit with a limited amount of ancillary nonengine company equipment. Limited amount is also a significant term.

A pumper-rescue has also been called a rescue-pumper, rescue-engine, engine-rescue, as well as a multitude of regional terms too numerous to list. If the name includes the word engine or pumper in it, it probably should be NFPA 1901 compliant as a pumper regardless of what other equipment it may carry. Should the first part of the name reflect the primary mission? As an example, if it always responds as a rescue truck and is used as a second-due or backup pumper, call it a rescue-pumper. Reverse the name if the primary mission is fire suppression-or, call it what you want. In reality, it is irrelevant what the rig is called unless it affects fireground operations.

I take no side for or against the concept of pumper-rescues. Purchasers should be aware of other limitations, considerations, and ramifications with the concept. That is the intent of this article.

Function, Efficiency, and Safety

Important, but not always addressed considerations, in the pumper-rescue concept are defining the exact role of the rig, how equipment is efficiently deployed, and firefighter safety. The AHJ and the apparatus purchasing committee (APC) ought to address them-in detail-before writing purchasing specifications. Both can get so fixated on making everything fit that there may be little focus on how efficiently and safely equipment will be used.

How does a pumper-rescue fit into actual day-to-day operations? What is its primary function? Will the rescue half of the rig address vehicle extrication or the fire side, including salvage, overhaul, and lighting-or both? Where does it fit in the running order for structure calls, motor vehicle accidents, automatic alarms, and so on? Can it perform the same functions as other regular pumpers? Carry the same equipment? How easy and safe is it to physically deploy and reload the equipment? Does it conform to apparatus protocol for local and regional mutual aid and mutual assistance plans? What kind of impact will there be on the department’s apparatus replacement schedule? What do you do with the equipment that doesn’t fit?

(4) This Dash CF in Pierce’s PUC configuration is lettered Rescue Engine.
(Photo courtesy of Nick Amidon, Atlantic Emergency Solutions.)

Insurance Services Office, Inc. (ISO)

Be smart when combining apparatus. Seldom, if ever, addressed by vendors and fire departments is that the ISO has designations for “Service Companies” and “Engine-Service Companies.” In locales without ladder companies, a service company is a requirement. You can lose points if you don’t comply. The ISO’s Fire Suppression Rating Schedule (FSRS) states, “A minimum of a three-apparatus response shall be on the initial alarm to reported structure fires. Two of the apparatus should be capable of satisfying the minimum FSRS criteria for a pumper and the remaining apparatus a ladder or service company.”

Use caution. Visualize combining a ladder truck with an engine into a small quint and a couple years later combining a second engine and a heavy rescue into a rescue-pumper. The apparatus fleet is downsized; the budget is lowered; staffing requirements are reduced; and city hall is happy. What if the ISO visits to evaluate the fire department and finds it is deficient not only in the number of apparatus responding on the first alarm but in the required ancillary equipment there wasn’t room to carry on the quint and rescue-pumper? Oops. This is not saying it will happen-but it could. The ISO places a value on each piece of ancillary equipment required on that three-apparatus response. Check before you consolidate.

The ISO has an online Fire Suppression Rating Schedule-Fire Departments. The AHJ and APC have a responsibility to be familiar with it. Don’t attempt to decipher their legalese as to how much full credit you get for one of those or if it’s a half credit for one of them and what it means by prorating, divergence, and equivalency. Purchasers should seek answers in writing from the ISO prior to investing large sums of taxpayers’ money for a fire truck they may not get full credit for. That has happened before. The ISO is not all negative. A strategically located pumper-rescue meeting ISO criteria as an engine-service company might help a department secure a better rating. It’s a two-way street.

The Stanardsville (VA) Volunteer Fire Company Smeal
(5) The Stanardsville (VA) Volunteer Fire Company calls its Smeal a rescue-
engine. It features high side compartments on each side plus three at the
rear. (Photo courtesy of Smeal Fire Apparatus.)

NFPA 1901

Several manufacturers reference “Special Service Fire Apparatus,” which is covered in Chapter 10 of NFPA 1901. Sentence 3.3.159 defines special service fire apparatus as, “A multipurpose vehicle that primarily provides support services at emergency scenes.” The appendix, sentence A.3.3.159 elaborates, “These services could be rescue, command, hazardous material containment, air supply, electrical generation and floodlights, or transportation of support equipment and personnel.” It’s an all-inclusive category that includes rescue trucks.

Purchasers should exercise caution when writing specifications for a pumper-rescue. If the specs purposely or inadvertently call for a pumper-rescue to be compliant as a special service fire apparatus and as a pumper, Pandora’s Box of confusion can be opened.

As an example, NFPA 1901 has an “equipment allowance” for both pumpers and special service apparatus. Table 12.1.2 Miscellaneous Equipment Allowance says a pumper with less than 250 cubic feet of compartmentation must have a 2,000-pound equipment allowance. If it has more than 250 cubic feet, it must have a 2,500-pound equipment allowance. It doesn’t say why.

The equipment allowance for special service fire apparatus has seven classifications for vehicles with gross vehicle weight ratings (GVWR) from 10,000 to more than 60,000 pounds. The allowance ranges from 2,000 to 10,000 pounds based on the GVWR. The dilemma manufacturers can face is which equipment allowance to use. It is unclear what chassis GVWR percentage is attributable to each if a combination pumper and special service apparatus is specified. What do you put in your purchasing specifications?

In NFPA 1901 Appendix section A.12.1, compartment loading is also addressed in “pounds per cubic foot” as well as in the density and how tightly the equipment is packed. Don’t try to figure that one out-get some professional help. One statement in A.12.1 stands out: “Purchasers who specify vehicles with large compartment capacity should work closely with the vehicle manufacturer to ensure that the GVWR is sufficient to carry the intended equipment.” The NFPA is spot on with that one.

Most of the people quoted herein expressed the opinion that the NFPA should not have a classification for rescue-pumpers. I agree 100 percent. There are too many variables to develop a standardized configuration. It may be less confusing and more accurate to specify a rescue-pumper built to NFPA 1901 pumper requirements. Specify additional compartmentation by physical size or as sized to fit specific equipment. An equipment allowance can be based on the actual equipment to be carried plus a small cushion. Do your research; get some help.

It is the purchaser’s and spec writer’s responsibility to fully explain to potential bidders exactly what is meant, wanted, and expected if their purchasing specifications solicit bids for a rescue-pumper-engine-squad-combination-whatever by name.

Jackson Township (PA) Volunteer Fire Company Rescue Engine
(6) KME delivered this rear-mount rescue-engine to the Jackson Township
(PA) Volunteer Fire Company. (Photo courtesy of KME.)

Reality Check

Shortsightedness can be explained as when an action is contemplated without taking the future into account. First-time purchasers of pumper-rescues can become defensive and argumentative when told everything they want may not fit on the size rig they want. Some may become confrontational when a vendor-in good faith-asks what the fire department’s priorities are when designing the rig. Asking what piece of equipment should be located low so it’s easy to deploy is not a direct challenge to authority-it’s common sense. Merely discussing how an intended pumper-rescue will integrate into a department’s replacement schedule, procedures, and tactics may send an alpha dominant fire chief into a frenzy. Bear in mind, most vendors and the manufacturers have already been through the pumper-rescue design process. Use them, don’t abuse them.

Sometimes a purchaser will delete equipment and cut back on features that may be detrimental to its fire suppression needs-just to prove the point a pumper-rescue will work for its department. It could be a mistake. One example could be a department with a rescue truck that also operates two pumpers equipped with six preconnects of various sizes and 1,000-gallon booster tanks. A rescue-pumper was designed to be first due on all alarms and respond alone on perceived nuisance calls-saving the wear and tear and staffing for two rigs. To make everything fit, the preconnects were cut back to four and the tank was reduced to 750 gallons. Sending that rig out first or alone could be like going into combat with a third less artillery, 25 percent less ammunition, and half the troops. Good luck.

BILL ADAMS is a former fire apparatus salesman, a past chief, and an active member of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has more than 45 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.

The Manufacturer’s Perspective

Manufacturers design and build apparatus that, besides being profitable, have to meet regulatory criteria such as NFPA 1901 as well as specific needs of individual fire departments. Several manufacturers were asked to shed light on the industry trend toward rescue-pumpers from the apparatus builder’s perspective. Some of their answers to specific questions follow.

Do you market a designated line of rescue-pumpers?

Andrew Yenser, rescue truck product manager for KME: “Yes, several different ways.”

Jeff Wegner, eastern regional sales director responding for Smeal: “Yes, we offer a complete line of custom pumpers to meet these needs.”

Joe Messmer, president of Summit: “Yes.”

Jim Kirvida, president of CustomFIRE: “Yes, the majority of our products can be defined as rescue-pumpers.”

Mark Aswad, owner of Firehouse Apparatus, 4-Guys Fire Apparatus’s largest dealer, responding for 4-Guys: “We do not market any specific product by name, such as rescue-pumper. We label the truck as referenced by the customer.”

Chad Trinkner, director of product management for Pierce: “We have three distinct lines of rescue-pumpers: heavy duty rescue pumpers (HDRP) with traditional pump houses, rear-mount rescue-pumpers, and the PUC rescue-pumper.”

Do you have limitations for fire pump locations for rescue-pumpers?

All manufacturers state that they have no limitations. Yenser notes, “If the pump location can be engineered to be fully functional and it can be accomplished safely, KME can provide it.”

Do you differentiate between a rescue-pumper and a pumper-rescue?

Yenser, Wegner, and Trinkner say no.

Messmer: “Only when the customer emphasizes one use more than the other.”

Kirvida: “Yes. If the design is driven by the pump system requirements, it is a pumper-rescue whereas if the compartmentation and crew area comprise the design, it is called a rescue-pumper.”

Aswad: “No. It’s how the customer needs to identify it-usually due to county requirements or local apparatus nomenclature.”

Do you think NFPA 1901 should have minimum qualifications for a rescue-pumper or should the qualifications rest with the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ)?

Aswad: “I see no need for any special designation by NFPA 1901. The AHJ needs to identify the rig as it fits into the fleet and county.”

Wegner: “I think the NFPA has set minimum pumper requirements and they should stop at that.”

Kirvida: “I believe the qualifications should be left up to the purchaser as long as the apparatus meets NFPA 1901’s minimum criteria for a pumper.”

Messmer: “With the AHJ; they know what they need.”

Trinkner: “Qualifications should rest with the AHJ.”

Yenser: “This description should remain with the specific fire department (AHJ). As long as the fire department follows NFPA 1901 for a pumper or special service apparatus, the manufacturer will build a safe vehicle.”

Will the rescue-pumper become an industry standard following the quints?

Trinkner: “We believe the rescue-pumper is close to becoming an industry standard.”

Kirvida: “I believe it already has in many parts of the country.”

Wegner: “I think it is going to be too difficult to nail down specific items that make a unit a rescue-pumper.”

Aswad: “Over the past ten years, we feel it has already become a standard choice for customers.”

Yenser: “KME’s thought is that this trend will continue for volunteer fire departments who continue to maintain multiple functions with minimal equipment.”

Messmer: “I believe so. We have been building pumper-rescues for probably 20-plus years. We found early on that they are a good marriage just as quints are. But as with quints, they are not for everybody.”

Besides meeting NFPA 1901 criteria for a pumper, are there any other minimum qualifiers your company uses to designate a rig as a rescue-pumper?

Kirvida: “At least 260 cubic feet of compartments.”

Aswad: “Usually full depth full height compartments on both sides.”

Yenser: “We market two versions, one which meets the NFPA requirements for a pumper and a second version which meets NFPA’s special service fire apparatus requirements.”

Messmer: “No. However, we guide the department through the process so that its needs and NFPA 1901 requirements are met.”

Wegner: “No. It is all customer-driven as long as we meet the minimum NFPA standards.”

Trinkner: “Pierce will qualify a rescue-pumper with a wider 98- or 100-inch-wide body using the NFPA’s heavier equipment allowance of 4,000 pounds for the special service fire apparatus rating; also with a minimum of 250 cubic feet of compartmentation and a full depth compartment body style.”

The Manufacturer’s Perception

Manufacturers also shared their perceptions of trends in rescue-pumper purchasing and relayed words of wisdom they might have for fire departments that may be specifying one in the future.

Wegner: “Pumper-rescue purchasing committees are reluctant to cut back on anything. They want the manufacturer to find a way to make everything fit. Do your homework and determine what function the apparatus is going to fulfill. Work with the manufacturer. A reputable manufacturer will listen to your needs and design a sound apparatus. The cheapest truck is not always the best purchase.”

Aswad: “We are definitely seeing axle weights pushed to their limits as well as cab heights and overall lengths. The main concerns are pump size and compartmentation. Tank size is the easiest component to cut back in exchange for other requirements. Plan, plan, plan-this type of truck is becoming common because of reduced staffing and the need to do the same work with fewer apparatus. This trend will continue.”

Trinkner: “The most noticeable trend right now, typically, is vehicle consolidation-combining a rescue and an engine to form one apparatus that has the capacity to perform all functions. The trend is really pushing the axle capacity to the limit. Customers are asking for as much water, cab, and cubic feet of storage as the axles and chassis can support. Make sure you know what equipment you want to fit in your apparatus. Make sure everything has a home. It will benefit you to be thorough in this regard.”

Messmer: “Our customers want to follow 1901 and serve their pumper and rescue needs to the maximum the truck will allow. For most new purchasers, this is new territory, so they should start with a clean sheet of paper. Get as much input from members of your fire department as possible. Using the information from the people using the trucks will guide purchasers in the right direction.”

Yenser: “It is very easy to ask for everything on a dual-purpose truck and overload it or oversize it to the point where it cannot maneuver and is unsafe. Clearly define how the department intends the truck to be utilized and be sure to convey that message to the manufacturer. Understand what options are available and how they coincide with your operations. It takes a tremendous amount of time and effort to design a safe and functional apparatus. Be sure you are getting the most of your investment in equipment.”

Kirvida: “The trend is definitely toward combining pumper and extrication rescue, moreso than salvage and overhaul functions. The real estate on a pumper-rescue is far more costly than say a high-volume trailer or a beverage body style apparatus. The latter can remain on site for salvage and overhaul operations. Consult with other users with similar needs who run a pumper-rescue. Do they have any issues with the concept and would they do it again? What can your backup vehicles(s) cover with the pumper-rescue gone on a call or out of service?”

Tom Shand of Emergency Vehicle Response, a fire apparatus consulting and specification writing firm: “The rescue-engine has become the engine company quint. Many are built as large as the apparatus bays will permit and end up being oversized units that don’t do any one thing particularly well. Some are so large, long, and heavy that the only thing they really do well is carry the equipment. If your department is going to combine engine and rescue vehicles into one, start by carefully evaluating your tool and equipment needs on present vehicles. Chances are something has to be eliminated.”

Bob Milnes, a Rosenbauer dealer in Florida: “I think a lot of departments today build huge rescue-pumpers because they think it is the thing to do and don’t really plan the equipment to be carried and how it fits the departments’ SOPs.”

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