It’s obvious really, but the most important resource that a firefighter has at their command when they fight a fire is water. Water is cheap, freely available, and excellent at putting out fires when used in sufficient quantities. They can get some from the fire hydrant, but it helps to carry some water to the fire, so how much do they hold?
Fire engines can carry between 300 and 1250 gallons of water in the onboard tank. Most typical fire engines you see carry 500 to 750 gallons of water. Fire trucks do not carry any water, except for some specialty types called Quints.
So, this is what you need to know about water resources for firefighters and how that impacts fire engines and fire trucks.
Your # 1 priority is keeping your family safe. As a firefighter, I recommend everyone has updated smoke detectors that don’t require battery changes, like these ones from Kidde, a fire extinguisher, like this one from Amerex, and a fire escape ladder if you have bedrooms above the first floor, I recommend this one from Hausse.
Also read: What’s the Difference Between a Fire Engine and a Fire Truck?
What Is A Fire Engine?
A fire engine is a vehicle that is meant to carry hoses, tools, and pump water. That’s why many people in the service call a fire engine a “pumper”.
A fire engine may also carry ladders, typically the kinds of ladders that can be removed by the crew and positioned as necessary, and some crew. You may also find that the fire engine houses a large number of EMS (Medical) tools as it will often be the first vehicle at a scene.
Thus, every fire engine has a water tank on board in order for it to be able to supply some water to fight a fire and start “pumping” the moment that the fire engine arrives on the scene if needed.
That means that the firefighting crew can quickly pull a hose line and start work. If there’s no nearby source of water, this is very important, because if a fire in this kind of location gets out of control?
It can be very dangerous, indeed.
This video gives a tour of a standard fire engine and its features:
Also read: Water Sources: Where Firefighters Get Their Water
How Much Water Does A Fire Engine Hold?
Depending on the type of fire engine, they hold between 300 and 1,250 gallons of water, with an average of 500 gallons.
The minimum requirement is 300 gallons for a fire engine.
There are 7 types of fire engines designed for different firefighting applications, and they each have requirements for water carried.
It is also possible to attach what’s known as a “drop tank” to a fire engine which can add up to another 2,000 gallons of water to the supply of water for a fire engine.
A fully loaded fire engine weighs up to 60,000 lbs. and much of that weight is due to the water that it carries in its reservoir.
Also read: How Wide and Long Is A Fire Truck/Engine?
What Is A Fire Truck?
By way of contrast, a fire truck is not normally involved in the supply of water to a scene. As you can imagine the 750-gallon (or so) reservoir on the main fire engine takes up an enormous amount of space.
This effectively limits how much space can be dedicated to crew and equipment. Thus a fire truck is a support vehicle to a fire engine. It carries all the tools and any additional crew needed to fight the fire.
They are usually tasked with other jobs at fire besides extinguishing the fire. Things like; search and rescue, ventilation, breaking down doors, and making openings (forcible entry).
So, you might find more complex ladders, rescue gear, power tools, etc. on a fire truck but you’re not likely to find any extra water.
This video tours a fire truck (even though it says engine):
How Much Water Does A Fire Truck Hold?
Your typical fire truck holds zero gallons of water. It’s not a fire truck’s job to bring water to the scene instead. It brings tools and firefighters to make the overall task of fighting a fire easier.
There is an exception… A special fire engine/truck combo is called a Quint. This has the normal aerial ladder that trucks have but also has a pump and water tank (usually with 500 gallons of water.)
You can learn more about a Quint here:
How Quickly Does A Fire Engine Use All Of Its Water?
500 gallons is a lot of water.
The average American, for example, uses just 17.2 gallons to take an 8-minute shower every day.
That means you could take 43 and a half showers from the reservoir on a fire engine before it ran dry.
However, a pumper can pump 2000 gallons per minute! That means while that 500-gallon supply sounds substantial it can be exhausted in as little as 15 seconds when fighting a fire!
This is one of the reasons that it may be vital for firefighters to get another water source as quickly as possible. The onboard water tank is really just to get things started while they can get more water.
If you’ve ever wondered how forest fires get so big, this can give you an indication of the problems that those fighting wildfires encounter – there’s never enough water to go around with a huge fire in the middle of the woods.
Also read: Why Firefighters Set Backfires: The Science of Controlled Burns
How Does A Fire Engine Get More Water To A Fire?
This doesn’t mean, however, that a fire engine is always without alternative sources of water and the most common way for a fire engine to get water is by tapping into a hydrant.
Hydrants are found throughout cities and even in rural locations near the mains supply of water and their only purpose is to supply water when tackling fires.
This supply reduces the need for separate water supplies to be shipped to the scene of the blaze.
If there’s no hydrant available, then the fire engine may find water in other locations. It’s not uncommon for the fire department to take water from lakes, streams, and even swimming pools when it’s needed.
There are some odd legal questions over the use of swimming pool water in some places, but in an emergency, it’s better to use a swimming pool’s water than to let something burn.
How Much Do Fire Trucks Cost? Apparatus Types and Prices
Do All Firefighters Have to Drive the Truck?