There are 2 types of firefighters – truck and engine: Which are you?

Generalities only go so far, but there are some consistent differences with training, fireground tasks and even personalities


Are you an engine or truck firefighter? Which is better?

Firefighters have spent countless hours around the kitchen table defending their apparatus, whether chosen or assigned.

But what should new firefighters know about the two apparatus assignments? Let’s dive into some general (yes, general!) qualities and characteristics embodied by truck and engine company firefighters. We’ll also cover some of the pros and cons between the two assignments. Who knows, maybe we are all more alike than we think.

Which column appeals to you -- engine or truck?
Which column appeals to you -- engine or truck? (Photo/Vince Bettinazzi)

(By the way, if you’ve made it this far and are already concerned about the content ahead, well, then you’re probably on a truck company. Let the stereotyping begin!)

Physical attributes

If you are big, strong, and brought your own peanut butter or protein to the firehouse, then you’re likely on a truck company. These calendar-caliber members hang their turnout gear next to the ladder truck, while the generally out-of-shape couch potatoes or 5K fanatics set up next to the engine companies.

Kidding aside, we all know that physical attributes do not necessarily correlate with either position, although there is certainly an advantage to being in shape to perform certain tasks on either assignment. Important factors like technique, skill development, repetition and a solid physical fitness foundation are what really matters for any firefighter on any type of apparatus. Remember, both positions require members to perform strenuous, complicated skill sets, often in hazardous environments and at a moment’s notice.

Of course, while there are some stereotypes of truckies being burly and engine crews being more nimble, we all know several firefighters who don’t fit the bill. For example, I’ve seen a 5’8” light-framed firefighter perfectly execute a 35-foot ladder throw, while the 6’6” bodybuilder seamlessly stretches the hoseline and effortlessly works the nozzle.

But all things considered, sign me up for the donut-eating contest and this year’s Turkey Trot, please. Did someone say free T-shirt?

Truck vs. engine training

I am not a member of a big-city department or one that ties firefighters into dedicated riding positions. As a result, we are routinely required to train in both skill sets typically performed by a truck or engine company. It is normal to feel more comfortable and confident in one job aspect than the other.

For firefighters working in larger departments, they may be able to spend all their training time exclusively on one assignment. I am sure that this delivers an advantage, as members are able to work within a specific tactical wheelhouse in order to build repetitions. But let’s talk some pros and cons of engine and truck training.

It’s a great thing to love what you do, and whether you ride an engine or a truck, you’re part of an amazing firefighting family.
It’s a great thing to love what you do, and whether you ride an engine or a truck, you’re part of an amazing firefighting family. (Photo/Vince Bettinazzi)

Engine training is a time-consuming event. Every “let’s stretch a line really quick” always inevitably turns into an hour-long drill, complete with water flowing, and the obligatory tips and tricks dialogue as the line is re-packed, often to be pulled again. Engine company evolutions –pump operations, friction loss, high-rise and extended or unusual hoseline stretches – are fun, challenging and undoubtedly chew up a couple hours of your time.

Common ladder company training drills are typically quicker and more straightforward. Ladders up, ladders down, force the door prop, search the station’s exercise room (it’s always the exercise room with truck members). The considerable advantage is the ability to complete multiple evolutions in a short amount of time. It’s amazing how many ground ladders you can throw in 30 minutes. I’ve always envied the proactive truck company that takes advantage of area-familiarization drills, as the driver sets the aerial and the crew discusses forcible entry, preferred ventilation tactics and walks through a search pattern, then disappears 7-minutes later.  

Of course, we take advantage of opportunities to train at our buildings on the engine companies, too. Typically, a practice stretch inside an occupied high-rise hotel turns into a 60-minute drill consisting of luggage cart battles, reassurance to 300 guests that the building is not on fire, and 25 calls to the front desk. All worth it!

Scene size-up and tasks

Engine and truck firefighters see the same fire from different perspectives – and this is especially true for the company officer.

The first-arriving engine boss sizes up the structure and completes the initial 360. They read the building to achieve the goal of fire extinguishment. I once heard a great mnemonic (BAG: Been-At-Going, as in, where has the fire been, where is it now, and where is it going) that really sums up what the engine company officer is trying to determine about the fire upon arrival. The engine company members devise a plan to successfully attack the fire – the size-up. They then stretch a line, advance it through the structure, and put water on the fire. The engine company operates as a unit to accomplish a singular task – fire extinguishment.

The truck officer arrives at the fire and sizes it up in order to potentially deploy members to complete a multitude of tasks. The truck company is responsible for forcible entry, search, ventilation and possibly a whole lot more. These firefighters often divide up in order to ensure that the needed tasks get completed in a rapid sequence, but they are still accountable in working toward the successful outcome.

In simple terms: If you enjoy being able to perform a wide array of skills on the fireground, then truck life is for you. If you’d rather be able to perform a particular skill, but in a variety of ways, then your company ride doesn’t have a ladder on top of it.

Company pride and personalities

This is the most important identifier between the two camps, at least in my humble opinion.

Truck firefighters are boisterous, extremely prideful individuals who love to fire off catchy company slogans like “South-Central Roofing Company” at any moment to anyone. It’s almost like they are obligated to constantly remind everyone of their riding assignment and company affiliation, especially if they are attending a training conference. Truck crews are awesome, colorful and are typically the ones with larger-than-life personalities. They are also brave, determined, adaptable, energetic, smart and, despite their amped-up personalities, typically cool on the fire scene. You have to respect the firefighter who loads up on a reported vehicle wreck while shouting, “Busiest truck in the city!”

Engine firefighters are some critical-thinkers. They find themselves obsessed over hydraulic calculations and the reach of the nozzle stream. More often than not, the engine company is comprised of your quiet and serious members. They are still extremely prideful, passionate and possessive of their company. These men and women will run their fair share of medical calls between the hours of practicing for their next fire because they are patient and committed.

It’s a great thing to love what you do, and whether you ride an engine or a truck, you’re part of an amazing firefighting family.

Editor’s note: Do you agree with these generalizations about engine and truck crews? What would you change?

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