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by Robert Avsec

The Quint: a unique and still misunderstood fire truck

Neither a jack of all trades nor a master of none, the quint will fill specific needs

By Robert Avsec

It's probably safe to say that there are many firefighters and officers who consider the quintuple combination pumper, or the quint, to be the "centaur" of fire apparatus: part engine and part truck. 

Since the German-based fire and rescue apparatus manufacturer, Metz Aerials, obtained the first patent for a quintuple combination pumper in 1912 — American LaFrance and Seagrave began to produce quints in the 1930s and 40s respectively — the idea of a "five-tool" piece of fire apparatus has been a controversial subject.

So where does the controversy originate?

Back in 2009, Robert Rielage, Chief of the Wyoming (Ohio) Fire-EMS department, a 78-member combination fire department bordering Cincinnati, wrote, "The modern quint … has been described by some as a fire truck designed by a city manager who thought four firefighters could do all the work of both an engine and ladder crew from a single apparatus." 

Fire chiefs who share Chief Rielage's sentiments point out that if you have only three or four people on the quint that you have the function of either a truck crew or an engine crew at a fire, but not both.

A leading proponent for the use of the quint is Neil Svetanics, the former chief of the St. Louis Fire Department. In 1987, Svetanics standardized all the apparatus in the city as quints and in 1999 ordered 34 new quints, replacing the city's fleet.

Svetanics' rationale for his unconventional thinking was really pretty simple: he needed a vehicle that would provide the most services at a time of reduced budgets.

Quint by definition
Before this discussion goes any further, let's make sure that we're talking about the same animal. Today's quint is designed to provide five tools for firefighters to carry out these tactical firefighting functions:

  • Supply fires streams (pump and hoses);
  • Provide initial and continuing water supply (pump, water tank, and hoses)
  • Provide personnel with access to elevated areas (ground ladder complement and aerial device)
  • Provide elevated master fire stream (pump, hose, and aerial device)

The National Fire Protection Association outlines the requirements for a piece of apparatus necessary to function as a quint in NPFA Standard 1901, The Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus. Here is a summary of the quint requirements as detailed in Chapter 9 of the standard:

  • Fire pump with a minimum capacity of 1,000 gallons per minute
  • Water tank with a minimum capacity of 300 gallons
  • Aerial ladder or elevating platform with a permanently installed waterway
  • Hose storage area with a minimum of 30 cubic feet of storage area capable of accommodating 2.5 inch or larger fire hose; two hose storage areas, each with a minimum of 3.5 cubic feet or 1.5 inch or pre-connected hose lines.
  • Enclosed compartments with a minimum of 40 cubic feet for equipment storage
  • Complement of ground ladders containing a minimum of 85 feet of ground ladders, including at least: two extension ladders, one roof ladder and one attic ladder
  • Suction hose of a minimum of 15 feet of soft suction hose or 20 feet of hard suction hose for drafting water.


Though the quint has now been around for 100 years, like all types of fire apparatus it has evolved along with new technologies. Today's quints are in many ways smaller, lighter and more agile than their predecessors. This is due to many influences, such as diesel engines, single-stage pumps, all-wheel steering, improved hydraulic systems (aerial device) and improved braking systems. 

Yesterday's large, tandem-axle quints, are now more maneuverable on the road and fireground because of shorter wheelbases made possible by eliminating the second axle.

What it can do
So why would a department's leadership consider adding a quint to their department's capabilities? There are many needs that a quint can address.

Staff shortages. Rather than under-staffing both a truck and an engine with a crew of less than four personnel — the optimal number for safe, efficient and effective firefighting operations — staff a quint with a four-person crew.

  • Funding cuts. The cost of a quint is less than the combined cost of an engine and truck. A quint has the tactical capabilities of both apparatus available, but through the purchase of one vehicle. (Point of emphasis: The tactical capabilities are available, but even with a four-person complement of staffing, the quint and its crew can perform either engine company or truck company functions, but not simultaneously).
  • Need for some aerial capablities. The quint with a 75-foot elevating device is the most popular model in the United States today because its reach can meet the operational needs for a wide variety of departments.
  • Need for a smaller vehicle with an elevated master streams. Older cities and towns have narrow streets with tight turning radiuses; newer cities and suburban areas are experiencing growth of the neo-classic community, that is, new construction that seeks to emulate the most positive features of older cities and towns. Quints come in a variety of sizes and configurations; all-wheel steering and other mechanical innovations provide more maneuverability for today's quints as well. For example, by positioning a quint on Side C of a structure with a narrow alley, the incident commander would have both engine and truck tactical capabilities available in that area. 
  • The need for lighter vehicles. Once again, the variety of sizes and configurations and weight can provide fire service leaders with an apparatus option for areas with infrastructural constraints, such as old bridges. Quints can also reduce the overall number of apparatus necessary to cross residential bridges or traverse long access roads to reach more remote homes and property.

About the author

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (Ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Va.) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an active instructor for fire, EMS, and hazardous materials courses at the local, state, and federal levels, which included more than 10 years with the National Fire Academy. Chief Avsec earned his bachelor of science degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master of science degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy's Executive Fire Officer Program. Since his retirement in 2007, he has continued to be a life-long learner working in both the private and public sectors to further develop his "management sciences mechanic" credentials. He makes his home near Charleston, W.Va. Contact Robert at

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Richard Kilgore Richard Kilgore Monday, August 12, 2013 5:23:33 AM Good article, but pictures would have been helpful.
Donald Catenacci Donald Catenacci Monday, September 23, 2013 8:20:46 AM All of what you said is true, unfortunately you left out some critical details. Some career FDs use quints to cut the number of apparatus AND staffing and claim they have a piece that can do both jobs. However they never paint the whole picture that it can't do both jobs simultaneously with the minimal staffing of 3 or 4 they put on the new rig. How do I know this happens? My former career FD cut 2 engines and 2 trucks, reduced manpower through attrition, and replaced them with 2 quints with 3 or 4 depending on staffing on any given day. Now one of the quints is gone and it has been replaced by an engine. With still 3 or 4 firefighters depending on daily staffing. Despite my negative experience with them regarding cuts I can see where, for a smaller FD, whether career, combination, or volunteer, a quint would be the wise choice for a ladder truck offering some flexibility in how it would be used. If used in a larger department primarily as a truck with the additional capability of pumping it may work too, although in a tradional engine/truck department the pump may not get used enough to justify the added expense.
John Lemley John Lemley Friday, June 13, 2014 6:38:43 AM Added initial cost. Added cost to maintain with regard to main ladder inspection. More systems added to frame requiring larger apparatus; bigger motor generally requires larger front axle which limits turning radius/cramp angle. Often less room for hose and tank size is limited. Trying to gain maneuverability by specifying a single drive axle vs tandem will almost certainly will limit the safe working load of the main ladder. Adoption of a quint should not replace an engine and a ladder and 4 engine company personnel and 4 - 6 ladder personnel.
Denny Merrigan Denny Merrigan Friday, June 13, 2014 1:49:44 PM I have a hammer and a saw. I can't use them both at the same time even if I combine them. I Quint is simply a money saving device with dubious tactical metrics. The Army builds tanks AND helicopters. Both are exceeding lethal in their own right yet both are needed to form an effective team. I'll pass.
Tom Tulipano Tom Tulipano Friday, June 13, 2014 2:18:58 PM On the contrary I would say it's very understood. It IS the way to simply and very quickly cut manpower and reduce costs. Its an over priced and extremely overweight Engine co that can't do nearly what a truck co does. It's ladder reach has limits, it's hose bed and in some case water tank size are too small as well as the crew size. I would bet that most departments don't have a 4 man crew on their quint they have 3 or less. You show me where you can place a 28,24,35,18, and 2 16' ladders on a quint. On a truck co that has a pump and tank but not on a quint as your are describing. Please don't sugar coat this like many do, for the majority is serves one purpose and one only - Cut Manpower and vehicles period!
Chase D. Waggoner Chase D. Waggoner Friday, June 13, 2014 3:47:23 PM A quint is a lot like a mini-pumper; it can be a very effective tool for the right department / situation, but it certainly isn't a good fit for every situation. My department uses a quint and it fits our needs perfectly. We have two pumpers and a quint. On commerical/industrial fires, we primarily deploy a pumper and a quint as an Engine & Truck co. respectively. However, on residential dwelling fires, we deploy both engines and leave the quint as a Reserve Engine if we catch a 2nd call. For our situation, the quint works great, but for a bigger city that could staff dedicated 2-3 company houses with an Engine and a Truck, then perhaps the Quint concept wouldn't fit their department.
Stan Bodner Stan Bodner Friday, June 13, 2014 7:47:36 PM If not used as a truck on a first due asst it can be once additional personnel arrive....
Carson Brown Iomc Carson Brown Iomc Saturday, June 14, 2014 6:08:57 AM My career dept. has quints in every station but the main one which has a tower, rescue, and a engine. And we staff all truck with 3 and sometimes jump truck form the rescue and tower.

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