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Types of Fire Engines and How to Distinguish The Differences Between Them

types of apparatus

Fire engines have advanced throughout the last four centuries to help protect the land and citizens of this nation.  The first fire engines were human propelled water pumps with no room for personnel. Around the end of the 1800s, the threat of fire within densely populated areas brought about paid firefighters equipped with horses to pull the early apparatus.  The modern day fire engine emerged in the 1960s armed with water pumps, a reservoir, and enclosed seats for the crew.  As the threats of fire began to change, so did the specialization of the fire engine on scene. In its most basic form, fire engines are equipped with hoses, water, equipment, and personnel that can aggressively fight the fire.  Let’s take a look at how the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus classifies the vehicles by type and function.

Fire Engine Types and Classifications

type 1 fire engine

Structure Engines: Type 1 & 2

When a person hears a fire siren in a developed city area, a Type 1 or 2 is typically responding to a structural fire.  Densely populated areas depend on a Type 1 fire apparatus to efficiently maneuver to the call and deploy an array of ladders to reach fires in elevated buildings.  Type 1 and 2 fire engines are the apparatus primarily designed for structural firefighting. The typical truck holds 400 to 500 gallons of water but must meet a minimum of 300 gallons as per Chapter 18 of the NFPA Standard 1901.  To extinguish a blaze contained within a structure, the fire must be attacked with a constant stream of water to counteract the heat generated from fire.  Oftentimes the amount of water needed to extinguish the fire cannot be supplied by the tank alone. This makes finding a reliable water supply one of the most fundamental and basic operations when arriving on the fire scene.

When the engine arrives on scene, the apparatus immediately connects to an available hydrant and the apparatus’ engine pumps water to attack the blaze.  When assessing the fire, knowledge of the length of your apparatus attack lines, flow capacity, and the GPM of water transfer can be the determining factor in saving a structure.  The NFPA Standard 1901 states that a Type 1 engine has to have a minimum of 1000 Gallons Per Minute of water transfer and a Type 2 must have a minimum of 500 gpm. A Type 1 has a larger flow capacity and a Master Stream device that is ideal for departments that face the threat of high-rise fires in their cities.

After the fire engineer taps the engine with water, he or she must then determine the means of hose delivery system to the burning building.  On a Type 1 & 2, NFPA Standard 1901 requires that you carry both 2 ½ inch and 1 ½ inch thick hoses of varying lengths: 1200ft X 2 ½ inch for a Type 1 and 1000ft X 2 ½ inch and 500ft X 1 ½inch for a Type 2.  However, a well-equipped Type 1 or 2 apparatus will carry an additional 5-inch-diameter hose that the firefighters will hook up to fire hydrants to give the extinguishing effort just a little bit more line to connect to the water source.  To ensure that water is efficiently flowing through from hydrant to nozzle, a 150-psi discharge pressure is mandated by NFPA Standard 1901.

In addition, Type 1 and Type 2 engines are equipped with the ability to carry 4 and 3 personnel respectively. Commonly found on these apparatus are SCBA’s, chainsaws and circular saws, as well as many different types of specialized equipment.

Wildland Engines: Types 3 Through 7

A wildland fire engine is one that is specifically designed to assist in fighting wildfires by transporting firefighters to the scene and providing them with access to water and other equipment that must conform to NFPA 1906.  Wildland engines are specially designed for the technique of pump-and-roll.  This is a tactic where the vehicle drives with the pump engaged while a firefighter uses a hose to spray water on the fire.

type 3 brush truck wildland

Type 3 & 4 Engines

Type 3 and 4 engines have four-wheel drive to make driving over rough terrain easier and must have a maximum gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) in excess of 26,000 lbs.  The minimum number of personnel a Type 3 must carry is 3, while a Type 4 must carry have a minimum capacity of at least 2. Type 3s are required by NFPA 1906 to have a minimum of 500 US gallons of water and pump 150 US gallons per minute at a pressure of 250 pounds per square inch.  The Type 4 engine sacrifices a smaller pump and less hose for a larger 750 gallon tank. The Type 4 standard of pumping is 50 US gallons per minute at a pressure of 100 pounds per square inch. These two engines often look similar to one another, however, the biggest difference are their minimum personnel and tank capacities.

type 6 cal fire engine

Cal Fire San Mateo County Fire

Type 5,6, & 7 Engines

Type 5, 6, & 7 fire engines have a much smaller configuration than a typical Type 3 or 4 engine.  The smaller body still allows the department to carry 50 to 400 gallons of water with the maneuverability and accessibility that you don’t have in a Type 3 or 4.  Types 5-7 are used heavily for initial attack and their GVWR’s are rated in ascending order from 26,000 lbs in Type 5 engines to 14,000 on Type 7 engines. This classification of engines are designed to hold a minimum of 2 people and carry hose diameters ranging from 1 inch to 1 ½ inches.

A Rule of Thumb

As a general rule of thumb, fire engine types are specified from largest to smallest size, Types 1-2 being the largest in order to carry large pumps and ladders for structure fires, and Types 5-7 being the smallest for navigating rough wildland terrain. Type 3 and 4 engines are mid-sized engines built both for wildland mobility and large water capacity. The general difference between these two is that Type 4 engines have much larger water tanks than Type 3 engines.

Protecting Our Nation’s Firefighters for Over 25 Years

For over 25 years, Boise Mobile Equipment has served our nation’s fire fighters by engineering state-of-the-art fire engines. The safety of our nation’s firefighters is our number one priority, so BME fire apparatus are built to protect fire crews by shielding them from the lethal elements they encounter when battling fires. Our fire trucks are engineered for rugged off-road terrain, built with reinforced TIG-welded aluminum tubular bodies and are tilt-tested to withstand horizontal grades of more than 32 degrees. BME fire trucks are trusted by fire service organizations like CAL FIRE and the USDA Forest Service, as well as numerous municipal fire departments across the country. In fact, many of our apparatus were used to help battle the recent ‘mega fires’ in CaliforniaMontana, Oregon and Idaho.

Our engineers and mechanics are highly trained, allowing them to manufacture custom vehicles built to any specs. We understand that one size does not fit all in the fire industry, as every department and organization needs different equipment to do its job. That’s why we are known for our ‘built-to-spec’ manufacturing process. Rather than the traditional ‘cookie cutter’ manufacturing process where each truck is built the same and additional specs are charged as add-ons, BME builds each of its vehicles custom to every department’s specific needs.

BME’s recent contracts with Forest Service and CAL FIRE allow for tag-on’s that could make the purchase of your new apparatus faster, easier and far less costly.  For more information regarding the purchase of a BME fire apparatus, please contact us by phone at (800) 445-8342.


Patrascu, Daniel. “Fire Truck History.” Autoevolution, 29 May 2009,

NPFA 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, 2009 ed. Annex E Pg. 179/201

NPFA 1901 Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, 2009 ed. Chapter 18 Pg.20/201

David, Haston. “NFPA 1906 and Wildland Apparatus Design” (PDF). US Forest Service. Retrieved 6 January 2014


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