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Fire Trucks, Types of Fire Trucks,
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Modern Fire Trucks: Surprising Facts

Think you know everything there is to know about fire trucks? Think again. Fire trucks are one of today’s modern marvels of engineering—and they save lives every day. Many people develop a fascination with them from an early age—but they still have a few surprises for us, even in adulthood. Here are a few surprising facts about fire trucks that you may not know.

They’re older than you think. A fire truck is simply a water pump on a portable vehicle. While the technology is new, the idea isn’t. The first fire pump was first invented by Ctesibius of Alexandria, a Greek inventor who lived in Egypt during the reign of Ptolemy in the second century B.C. Even more intriguing, Heron of Alexandria mentioned a forced water pump possibly used on an ancient fire engine sometime before the first century A.D. During the 1500’s, fire pumps were used to extinguish fires in Augsburg and Nuremberg. Reports in 1655 indicate steam pumps could raise columns of water over twelve metres in height, although it’s not known whether they were portable or not.

Firefighters don’t cling to the outside of fire trucks. It’s a common image: the fire truck speeding down the street in response to the fire, with firefighters holding for dear life onto the edge of the truck—or standing up in the back. In reality, firefighters used to do this—and many died when the trucks made sharp turns or sudden stops. Today, firefighters generally sit inside the fire trucks in enclosed seats—less dramatic, but much safer.

Hoses and cannons. Hoses are the typical method of pumping water onto a fire, and these are not easy to handle—the water itself weighs about 200 pounds, and controlling the hose takes several firefighters. Some fire trucks are also fitted with high-pressure water cannons that can deliver about fifteen litres of water per second. In some newer models, the water is delivered as a pressurized vaporous mist that cools more efficiently than water jets.

These aren’t just used for firefighting—they have also been turned on crowds in the past to control rioting. These were used extensively in Europe in the 30’s and in the U.S. in the 60’s, but they’re considered dangerous today. The water stream is strong enough to knock a person down and tear clothes, and anecdotal reports suggest the force of the water can rupture internal organs and break bones. Water cannon jets have been observed to tear up cobblestone streets as well.

Ladders. Most fire trucks are fitted with long ladders that can extend to approximately 10 storeys in height, raised by a series of hydraulic pumps. They’re installed on a rotating platform that can change the angle of the ladder depending on what’s needed.

Availability. Fire trucks aren’t only for fire departments. You can rent used fire trucks for birthday parties, parades and other events, including private parties. Used fire trucks are sometimes put to use for advertisements, kids’ camps and parties, and festivals and fairs—as well as fire prevention events.

Specialized fire trucks. There’s more than one type of fire truck. Some are specialized to fight fires in rural areas where fire hydrants aren’t readily available, with cisterns that carry over 3,000 litres of water onboard. Others are all-terrain vehicles used to fight forest fires. Still others are designed primarily for high rescues, airplane crashes, hazardous material fires, and more.

Fire trucks are models of modern engineering. They have to be able to rescue people on multiple floors as well as deliver firefighters to the scene of a fire with all the tools and water they need to put it out. It’s no wonder fire trucks are so fascinating to kids and adults alike—they’re fast, powerful and save lives.

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