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If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you may be surprised to see the fire department show up in a big red truck. In many cases, they even show up before the police or an ambulance. The question is, did a fire truck or a fire engine arrive, and does it even matter? 

Well, that depends. While the terms are used interchangeably, fire trucks and fire engines are actually different vehicles with distinct functions. If your house or car catches on fire, you may wonder which truck arrived and what the firemen will do. Here’s how each will help you in your hour of need.

A fire engine

So what is a fire engine exactly? According to Portland Fire and Rescue, “Fire engines, or pumpers, carry hose, tools, and pump water. The engine can also carry ladders, but they are set up by the firefighters and can be carried around.” A fire engine has a water tank (holding 500 to 750 gallons), pump, and numerous kinds of hoses.

Firefighters can use a fire engine’s hose and water to immediately work on putting out a fire. This is even more important for remote fires that aren’t near a hydrant. Patch reports that firefighters can use water from lakes, ponds, and rivers instead. Some have even drained swimming pools in severe emergencies. 

Mental Floss points out a fire engine is the first rescue vehicle to arrive at the scene of an accident. This is important because if a fire breaks out, the firemen can put it out before it gets out of control or spreads. 

Since the fire engine is first on the scene, it carries several EMS tools. How Stuff Works reports that this can include a trauma jump kit, an emergency oxygen tank, and a defibrillator. This means the firemen aren’t limited to putting out fires. They can treat injuries until the ambulance arrives.

A fire truck

A huge tank that can hold 750 gallons of water will obviously take up a lot of room on an already huge truck. Therefore a second truck has to carry the tools. Mental Floss states, a fire truck “transports firefighters and their equipment — ladders, rescue gear, and power tool — from the fire station to the fire. Rather than carry water, fire trucks are auxiliary vehicles that carry tools such as ground and aerial ladders.”

So what kind of tools does the fire truck carry that can’t go on a fire engine? Fire Tool Box explains there are actually many types of tools. Most of them are too large and bulky for a fire engine. There are several hand tools like sledgehammers, hooks, wrenches, halligans, and axes. Fire trucks also carry hydraulic tools like rams, spreaders, saws, and cutters, which can cut someone out of a car.

The firemen have to be familiar with each and every tool, as well as make sure to keep up with maintenance for both the truck and tools. Maintaining your car may seem like a pain, but it’s actually not so bad when you compare it to what a fireman does.