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Fire Engines | Ladder Trucks | Medic & Aid Units

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Fire Engines vs. Ladder Trucks

When it comes to fire suppression, the Seattle Fire Department primarily utilizes two types of fire fighting apparatus, engines and ladders. Both of these vehicles are referred to as a "Company".  In the case of ladder trucks, the terms "Ladder Company" and "Truck Company" are both used to refer to a ladder truck, while the term "Engine Company" refers only to a fire engine.

The major distinction between an Engine and a Ladder company is:

  • Engines primarily carry water, hose and a pump.

  • Ladders primarily carry ladders and a large assortment of tools used for ventilation, rescue, forcible entry, thermal imaging and salvage among other uses.

  • Seattle Ladder Companies do not carry any hose or water.  All water at a fire is supplied by the Engine Companies that respond to the scene.

  • All Seattle Ladder Companies are equipped with a 100 foot aerial ladder and several ground ladders while Engine Companies are equipped with only a few ground ladders.

While Engine and Ladder companies perform very different firefighting tasks, they do have some commonality:

  • Both are equipped with heart defibrillators and respond to emergency medical incidents since Seattle Firefighters are trained as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT's).

  • Each Engine and Ladder company has a Driver and a Company Officer assigned to it.

  • An additional 1 to 3 firefighters are assigned to each company. Together, the Officer, Driver and firefighters comprise the "crew" of that particular company.

Aid Units vs. Medic Units

Aid and Medic Units in the Seattle Fire Department look almost exactly the same and while their primary function is to respond to emergency 911 incidents, there are differences in the type of medical care each can deliver at the scene of a medical emergency.

From the outside, the only major distinction between them is the unit's number which appears on the front, back and sides of the vehicle.  For example an Aid Unit will have a number such as "A5" or "A2" displayed while a Medic Unit displays a number such as "M1" or "M10".  Another distinction, although much more subtle, is the color of the crew's uniform.  Aid Unit personnel wear dark blue shirts while Medic One personnel wear white shirts.

Similarities between an Aid Unit and a Medic Unit are:

  • Both respond to 911 medical and fire incidents.
  • Both are equipped with heart monitors and defibrillators.
  • Both respond with a minimum crew of two personnel.
  • Both can transport patients to area hospitals but if the patient does not have a medical emergency situation they are most likely transported by private ambulance.  This allows Aid and Medic Units to remain available and in-service for the next incident.

Major differences between Medic and Aid Units are:

  • Aid Units are staffed with two Firefighters trained as Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT).
  • Medic Units are staffed with two Firefighter/Paramedics.
  • Aid Units deliver Basic Life Support (BLS) services.  Personnel are not allowed to administer drug therapies nor do they carry drugs onboard.  Care is limited to a level within the requirements and restrictions of the EMT training personnel have received.
  • Medic Unit personnel perform Advanced Life Support (ALS) services.  Paramedics are trained, for example, to start drug therapies on-scene and perform intubation (airway) therapies.
  • Medic Units are equipped with radios that allow Paramedics to speak directly to emergency room doctors. This allows doctors to begin patient care through the skill of the Paramedics before the patient arrives at the hospital.


Last Modified:   December 21, 2009

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