Quints’ Roles Vary Depending on Department

One of the many debates in the American fire service is the effectiveness of quint fire apparatus.

Some fire service leaders who work or have worked in respectable fire departments believe they cause tactical confusion on the fireground and have contributed to decreased staffing levels. Many others, however, see the quint as being more versatile, allowing a company to address tactical objectives by priorities rather than fulfilling them by their apparatus designator or function. Each perspective has its merits. Let’s look at some of the issues surrounding this unique apparatus.

1 According to NFPA 1901, a quint shall carry at least a 50-foot aerial, 300-gallon tank, 800 feet of 2½-inch or larger fire hose (supply or working line), and 400 feet of 1½- or 1¾-inch attack line. A quint shall carry 85 feet total of ground ladders with an extension ladder, a straight ladder with hooks, and a folding ladder. (Photos by author.)
According to NFPA 1901, a quint shall carry at least a 50-foot aerial, 300-gallon tank, 800 feet of 2½-inch or larger fire hose (supply or working line), and 400 feet of 1½- or 1¾-inch attack line. A quint shall carry 85 feet total of ground ladders with an extension ladder, a straight ladder with hooks, and a folding ladder. (Photos by author.)

What Is a Quint?

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus (2009 ed.), outlines the minimum specifications for all fire apparatus. Chapter 9 contains the requirements for quints. Generally speaking, a quint carries fire hose and ground ladders and has a fire pump, a water tank, and an aerial device. Here’s where it gets interesting: When compared with the NFPA requirement for an engine, a quint meets or exceeds the minimum requirements.

NFPA 1901 requires an engine-defined as a pumper fire apparatus-to be equipped with a 750-gallon-per-minute (gpm) rated pump. In Chapter 9, a quint is required to have a 1,000-gpm rated pump. The 1,000-gpm rating is required to meet the flow requirements of a preplumbed waterway. Both need to have a minimum of a 300-gallon water tank and the hose requirements are the same at 800 feet of 2½-inch or larger fire hose (supply or working line) and 400 feet of 1½- or 1¾-inch attack line. The engine is required by the NFPA to carry an extension ladder, straight ladder with hooks, and a folding ladder. The quint shall carry 85 feet total of ground ladders with an extension ladder, a straight ladder with hooks, and a folding ladder, according to the standard.

When comparing the quint with an aerial-traditional ladder truck-they both shall have an aerial device of 50 feet minimum. The ground ladder complement on an aerial increases to 115 feet. In all reality, the quint is as much of an engine as it is an aerial by the standards outlined in the standard.

Now, I’m not sure what’s worse: an engine that meets the requirements of a ladder truck with firefighting capabilities or a truck with a pump that nearly meets the NFPA standards for a traditional ladder truck. What happened to engines carrying hose and water and ladder trucks carrying ground ladders and tools? Have we willingly drifted so far away we from functionality that it has created significant confusion on the fireground?

Develop operational guidelines that outline the expectations of the quint on the fireground for specific occupancies and order of arrival. Functioning as an engine at single-story residences is reasonable. But, this is a more complicated issue when the quint arrives first due to a large apartment building without another ladder arriving within an acceptable timeframe.
Develop operational guidelines that outline the expectations of the quint on the fireground for specific occupancies and order of arrival. Functioning as an engine at single-story residences is reasonable. But, this is a more complicated issue when the quint arrives first due to a large apartment building without another ladder arriving within an acceptable timeframe.

Fire Service Evolution

Many things have changed in our world and the American fire service over the past 50 years-too many to address in this article. But, anyone who has been around long enough or has extensively studied fireground operations would say the minimum NFPA requirements for an engine, a quint, or an aerial ladder is inadequate for proper fireground operations. The fallout of decreasing the ground ladders carried on a ladder truck has put greater dependence on the use of aerial devices. The result is where I feel the tactical confusion exists. A quint positioning as an engine with the potential of using its aerial can cause a bit of a dilemma on the fireground.

Many believe the reliance on aerial devices occurred as a result of decreased staffing coming out of the late 1970s, which is about the time quints started becoming more prevalent in the American fire service. A quote directly from the Richmond Virginia Fire and Emergency Services Web page on the quint concept states, “The Total Quint Concept plan enables the department to have a substantial reduction in personnel, yet keep all 20 fire stations operating, with resources and apparatus that personnel can utilize more effectively and efficiently.”

2Provide quality training for your personnel working on the quint. Talking about it in the classroom is a good start, but it really needs to be reinforced by multicompany operations with the other engines in the department
Provide quality training for your personnel working on the quint. Talking about it in the classroom is a good start, but it really needs to be reinforced by multicompany operations with the other engines in the department.

Quint Prevalence

A few years ago, I conducted a general poll of the major aerial manufacturers, asking them what percentage of aerials coming off the lines were quints. Surprisingly, their answer was 75 to 80 percent of the aerial apparatus being built were quints, or aerial devices with some type of firefighting capabilities-e.g., fire pump, stored compressed air foam, and so on.

The quint seems to be the truck company of the suburban fire department. As suburban areas begin to grow, so too do their fire departments. The quint is a good stepping stone to traditional truck company operations for a growing organization. In my department, we started staffing a quint around 1995 out of necessity to staff a station because the department did not have an extra engine to house there. Since this time, we have grown our truck company operations and have proven the quint’s worth on the fireground. We made our quint, with limited compartmentation and ground ladders, work for us by adding additional compartments and mounting some of our equipment (e.g., hooks, tools) to the exterior of the apparatus. What we learned was the apparatus did not define our operations. Our attitude concerning fireground operations did.

Some larger municipal departments have left their traditional truck company configurations for the quints. Most notably are St. Louis, Missouri; Fort Worth, Texas; and Richmond, Virginia. These departments moved to a “total quint concept” (TQC) or blended quints with their already traditional truck companies. Do these departments see some of the same issues smaller suburban departments do? I don’t think so. The problem with the smaller suburban departments is they often only have one ladder-and it’s a quint-whereas the larger departments, or those running the TQC, have multiple quints arriving on the fireground. The larger department can have the first quint position and work as an engine while the second quint positions as a truck company. Obviously, this works; otherwise, St. Louis and other TQC organizations would not have implemented such a program. There still remains the issue of limited fire attack capabilities with quints and their minimum ground ladder complements.

Making Quints Work in the Suburbs

First, if your department is fortunate to be able to specify and design something that meets the needs of the organization, take the time and effort to do so. Consider looking at a tractor drawn aerial (TDA) if your staffing and training allow. The TDA will allow you to have suppression functions without impacting compartmentation and ground ladder storage capabilities.

Second, develop operational guidelines that outline the expectations of the quint on the fireground for specific occupancies and order of arrival. Functioning as an engine at single-story residences is reasonable. But, this is a more complicated issue when the quint arrives first due to a large apartment building without another ladder arriving within an acceptable timeframe. Should the quint position for aerial operations or the stretch? In most cases, it is not possible to do even if you had the staffing. A guideline will help clarify what is expected from everyone.

Last, take the time to provide quality training for your personnel working on the quint. Talking about it in the classroom is a good start, but it really needs to be reinforced by multicompany operations with the other engines in the department. Make those who work on the quint good at truck work. They should think truck first and engine second.

Depending on where you work, your experiences probably drive your view of quints. Quints are very unique apparatus on the fireground. Planning and training can address many of the problems faced by those who work on them. Moreover, you cannot compare the operations of a department running multiple quints with a department that only has one.


ROB FISHER is a 27-year veteran of the fire service and is a lieutenant assigned to Ladder 72 in Snohomish County, Washington. Fisher instructs at the Washington State Fire Academy as a recruit instructor in addition to ladder company-related courses. He has worked as a volunteer, career firefighter, driver/operator, lieutenant, training captain, and battalion chief. In 2008, Fisher received the Dana Hannon Award for Training.

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