Even with a modified schedule and social-distancing guidelines in place, this year’s Karl E. Kenyon Smokey Bear Parade did not disappoint. The fire prevention parade, which is held on the third Thursday of each July, is a tradition that has been a popular summer event in our shoreline communities for more than 50 years.
The two-hour parade was an impressive showcase of fire apparatus from the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League. It started in Dunn’s Corners and traveled more than 38 miles through the towns of Westerly and Charlestown, including visits to the shoreline communities of Quonochontaug, Cross Mills, Weekapaug, Misquamicut and Watch Hill.
Although the number of trucks along the route at any given time varied, because some local trucks joined the parade as it progressed through their fire districts and others left the parade in order to stay close to their communities to maintain fire protection, more than 50 different trucks participated.
Both residents and visitors have asked why different fire stations have different types of fire trucks. All fire service vehicles are generally referred to as fire trucks, but fire trucks today look very different from station to station.
In addition to fighting fires, your local firefighters also respond to incidents like medical emergencies, water rescues, hazardous material spills and automobile accidents, so the trucks in each department are equipped with a variety of tools. As firefighting technology has evolved, and fire district needs are identified and targeted, fire trucks are literally taking on new shapes and sizes.
The primary purpose of the fire truck is transporting firefighters to the scene with the water, hose, ladders, tools, and equipment that they need. However, the tools that firefighters need vary based upon the size of the department and the type of area the department is protecting. Variables such as a rural vs. suburban population or a residential vs. industrial base will impact the types of tools these fire trucks carry.
Generally, fire trucks can be classified into six broad categories: ladder trucks, pumper trucks, heavy rescue trucks, light rescue trucks, brush trucks, and utility trucks. Today’s fire trucks are very specialized, and are designed to perform different tasks, depending on the type of incidents to which they are called.
Ladder trucks: Ladder trucks are generally three- or four-section ladders mounted on top of the truck that are used to perform rescue and firefighting operations because of their ability to reach high windows and roofs. Block Island Fire, Dunn’s Corners Fire, Hope Valley Fire, Kingston Fire, Narragansett Fire, Union Fire of South Kingstown, Watch Hill Fire, Westerly Fire, and West Greenwich Fire have ladder trucks to accommodate the buildings in their areas.
Pumper trucks: Pumpers are fire trucks used to pump water onto the fire by passing water from a hydrant or pond through a large pump and into the hoses that deliver the water to the fire. Some fire trucks have a fixed deluge gun, also known as a master stream, mounted on top of the truck, which directs a heavy stream of water to wherever the operator points it. Today’s pumpers also have pre-connected hose lines that are attached to the engine’s onboard water supply and allow firefighters to quickly stretch the hose to the fire as soon as they arrive on scene. When the water in the pumper’s tank is gone, it is connected to more permanent sources such as fire hydrants or water tankers, or it can also use natural sources such as rivers or reservoirs by drafting water. All of the local fire departments within the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League have at least two pumpers.
Tanker trucks: Tankers are fire trucks used to carry large amounts of water to the scene in areas where hydrants are not available. These fire departments have limited access to hydrants and the available natural water resources such as ponds and streams are insufficient or difficult to exploit. The primary purpose of a tanker is to transport large amounts of water and portable water tanks to an emergency scene to make it available for firefighting operations. Ashaway Fire, Block Island Fire, Exeter 1 Fire, Exeter 2 Fire, Dunn’s Corners Fire, Carolina Fire, Charlestown Richmond Fire, Hianloland Fire, Hope Valley Fire, Lake Mishnock Fire, Union Fire of South Kingstown, West Greenwich Fire, and Western Coventry Fire have tankers.
Heavy rescue trucks: Heavy rescue trucks, sometimes referred to as rescue squads or special hazards trucks, are essentially giant toolboxes on wheels. They are primarily designed for difficult rescue situations such as major vehicle extrications following car accidents, as well as confined-space rescues, rope rescues, swift-water rescues, or building collapses. Ashaway Fire, Carolina Fire, Dunn’s Corners Fire, Hope Valley Fire, Kingston Fire, Union Fire of South Kingstown, and Westerly Fire have heavy rescue vehicles.
Light rescue trucks: Light rescue trucks, sometimes referred to as squads, are another type of specialty firefighting apparatus. Essentially they are smaller versions of heavy rescues with less equipment. They are primarily designed for less difficult rescue situations such as minor car accidents and vehicle extrications, as well as water and ice rescues, and minor technical rescues. Block Island Fire, Charlestown Rescue, Charlestown Richmond Fire, Cross Mills Fire, Exeter Fire, Hianloland Fire, Lake Mishnock Fire, Misquamicut Fire, Narragansett Fire, Watch Hill Fire, and West Greenwich Fire have light rescue vehicles.
Brush trucks: Brush trucks are vehicles that are usually used specifically for fighting grass, brush, and wildland fires in difficult-to-access areas. These trucks are usually equipped with a small water tank and a small pump mounted on a four-wheel-drive pickup. Ashaway Fire, Block Island Fire, Carolina Fire, Dunn’s Corners Fire, Exeter 1 Fire, Hianloland Fire, Hope Valley Fire, Kingston Fire, Western Coventry Fire, West Greenwich Fire, Union Fire of South Kingstown have brush trucks.
Utility trucks: Utility trucks such as specialty trucks and all-terrain vehicles are multipurpose vehicles that may be used to carry personnel, equipment, tools, supplies, and traffic-control equipment. All-terrain vehicles are used for beach and forest emergencies such as fighting fires, searching for missing persons and transporting medical patients in remote areas. Almost every local fire department in the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League has some type of utility vehicle.
Your local fire department has trucks and tools designed to meet the needs of your community. However, there may be an emergency response that exceeds local resources. All of the departments in the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League have mutual aid agreements with each other, which means they agree to give each other assistance during incidents where the local department’s resources are insufficient. Because of these mutual aid agreements, every fire department does not need to have every type of vehicle. For example, a small rural community like Ashaway can rely on a ladder truck from Hope Valley and Westerly Fire can rely on Dunn’s Corners Fire for a tanker.
This column was written by Jane Perkins, fire safety specialist for the Rhode Island Southern Firefighters League and captain of the Watch Hill Fire Department. If you would like to see a question answered in this column, please e-mail her at email@example.com.