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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

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Today’s quint is designed to provide five tools for firefighters to carry out several tactical firefighting functions.

Photo/City of Willmar

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. Here are four reasons to consider a quint.

1. 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.

2. Need for some aerial capabilities. 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.

3. Need for a smaller vehicle with an elevated master stream. 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.

4. 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.

This article, originally published on May 10, 2010, has been updated.

Battalion Chief Robert Avsec (ret.) served with the Chesterfield (Virginia) Fire & EMS Department for 26 years. He was an 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’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his master’s degree in executive fire service leadership from Grand Canyon University. He is a 2001 graduate of the National Fire Academy’s EFO Program. Beyond his writing for and, Avsec authors the blog Talking “Shop” 4 Fire & EMS and has published his first book, “Successful Transformational Change in a Fire and EMS Department: How a Focused Team Created a Revenue Recovery Program in Six Months – From Scratch.” Connect with Avsec on LinkedIn or via email.