History of the Fire Truck – The Biggest Fire fighting Tool

A modern fire truck is a sight to behold with its massive size, bright chrome accents, and vivid red paint. However, firefighters weren’t always in possession of such conveyances.

The use of a vehicle on wheels revolutionized the ability of local townspeople to fight fires, and the men chosen to be the town’s fire fighting crew were finally able to reach a fire with water before the blaze took over half the city.

Just imagine if fire trucks had existed in the 17th century during the Great Fire of London in 1666. Half the city might not have gone up in smoke. Here’s a brief history of fire trucks, and how they revolutionized modern fire fighting.

Early Fire Fighting ToolsOld Fire Tools The Bucket Brigade

The concept of a vehicle used as a fire fighting tool dates back to the 1700s when fire “trucks” were nothing more than a water pump on a set of wheels. The phrase “bucket brigade” was created in this era, and the portable water pumps were used throughout Europe, as well as the United States.

In the next century, the crews employed for fighting fires were actually paid for their work, and the firefighters started using horses to pull the fire pumps. Fire fighting became more effective with the help of the horses, but the conveyances didn’t actually have any room for the firefighters.

They had to trot along the side of the portable water carriage to the fire, which made for some rather fatigued firefighters at the site of the blaze.

The Self-Propelled Fire Truck

Self Propelled Fire Engine

Self-Propelled Fire Engine
Photo Credit: History of Early American Automobile Industry

New York was the site of the first self-propelled fire truck, which was first used in 1841 as a steam powered fire truck. Oddly, the conveyance wasn’t too popular at first because the firefighters didn’t believe that it was a safe fire tool.

However, after a few years, the concept caught on and steam-powered trucks became the norm. Over the second half of the 19th century, fire departments around the nation would start using self-propelled fire trucks with a few companies in the early 20th century forming for the specific purpose of building fire trucks.

Looking Up with Ladders and Buckets

By the time the 1930s rolled around, fire trucks had crossed the threshold into gasoline-powered trucks, and fire companies started installing ladders on the trucks because of the increasing height of new buildings. The long ladders actually rose to 150 feet.

Around 10 years later, in the 1940s, platforms were added to the trucks to help firefighters reach difficult areas of tall buildings. The common name for these areal platforms is the “cherry picker.”

Fire Trucks Become Modern

It was around the 1960s when fireman tools took off in their design as the modern-day fire truck came into being. Although the trucks used the vehicles of the day, they featured ladders, platforms, and modern water pumps.

In addition, firefighters also found comfort within enclosed seating in the truck, which is a simple feature they’d never had with past truck designs.

Today’s fire trucks are versatile, but they don’t all look the same. There’s the Wildland fire engine that’s meant for mountainous fire fighting, as well as advanced trucks meant for fighting aircraft fires on the tarmac of an airport.

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