Fire trucks have existed as long as cars have. They have changed from horse-drawn carriages to the best in modern machinery. From simple ladders and hoses, they now have water cannons and other high-tech equipment needed to combat fires and save lives. Yet they still can be rather simple, designed to both staunch blazes and handle the issues of the road.
Some firemen work in huge cities while others have to handle rural areas in distant states. Yet the trucks all share the same characteristics of the job, which definitely includes handling the roads on the way to any incidents. This includes sticking to major rules of how to drive. Every regular driver knows about giving fire trucks the right of way and avoiding them when they can. But firemen have their own rules about riding and behavior on trucks.
Obviously, many are well-known, from how to obey traffic rules to locking down equipment correctly. Yet there are a few unofficial rules that are known mostly to firemen themselves that aren’t as well publicized. Some are about behavior and cultural norms, like how to talk while keeping down the gossiping that pervades other occupations. Others involve rules of the road that fire trucks need to take more seriously than other drivers. Here are 20 unusual rules fire trucks have to obey on the road to show how their job is a serious one in many ways.
20 Engines Take Priority
There actually is more than just one type of fire fighting vehicle out there. The big engines are the most famous but there are also the smaller trucks which carry a lot of other equipment needed to combat blazes. They tend to go out together yet the engines are often seen as taking priority over the smaller trucks. They tend to pave the way thanks to their size and the fact that they’re more recognizable, so drivers will give them the right of way. While a few units may have the smaller trucks as escorts, the majority have the rule that the engines always lead the way whenever a fleet of fire trucks hits the road.
19 Balance Firefighter Weight
Let’s face it, some firemen are not in the best of shape. The physical requirements for veteran firefighters can be more lax and thus, quite a few guys on the job can be on the heavier side. This means that when the trucks go out, a smart chief manages to balance out the weight evenly. Putting too many heavier folks on the rear of a truck or the side can throw it off, especially when they’re tearing around corners at high speeds. This also means figuring out which guys are better suited for the ladder and hose cannons than others due to their size. It’s sad it has to happen but the truth is that a lot of firefighters have weight issues that lead to these rules.
18 Take Passenger Roles Seriously
Usually, when someone rides in the front passenger seat, it’s just to nab the best place to sit for a long car ride. Firemen take it a lot more seriously. The passenger in the cab isn’t just there for a good place to sit. They have to be the second eyes for the driver to warn of any oncoming cars that ignore the sirens and charge ahead obliviously. They’re also good for handling directions for a driver who may not be used to a particular section of town and ensuring the rest of the crew are on the same page. They also handle some of the other problems including scene security. This position is not a lark for firemen but a vital one on the truck.
17 Scene Security
A constant issue for firemen on the job are the packs of onlookers who show up. Something about a blaze brings bystanders out to gawk and take photos. While police can be used to keep them back, firemen also have to figure out scene security. A danger not commonly known is how someone can take advantage of the distraction to sneak over and steal some equipment from the truck. It’s why at least one fireman (often a rookie) is left behind to maintain a close eye on the truck. There’s also ensuring just some onlooker isn't wanting to get a selfie with the truck during a raging inferno. Keeping security on a fire truck is more important than most people realize.
16 Keep Hazing to a Minimum
Obviously, hazing is a major deal for firehouses. It can seem rough to put rookies through some wild tests and challenges, as well as scores of practical jokes, but it’s a good way to judge someone’s character and helps build a sense of camaraderie in the firehouse. However, when the alarm goes off, the hazing pretty much stops. Sure, some firemen may push things a bit yet others know that there’s a time and a place for busting someone’s chops—and a time when other people’s lives are at stake is not it. Maybe a rookie can be mocked for a mistake made during a job but not when the actual emergency is going on. Hazing has a place but not on the truck itself.
15 Assume Other Drivers Are Foolish
Normally, when a fire truck’s sirens wail, drivers know they need to pull over and wait for the truck to pass. Sadly, firemen have long accepted that some drivers are simply too foolish or selfish to follow those simple road rules. They have to be used to drivers who refuse to give way no matter the problem and will even slow down in front of a truck for no reason. There are also the drivers who use the fire truck as a great way to cut through traffic by hounding right on their tail. Firemen have to live by the sad rule that some drivers can just act like total fools while the trucks are racing to a scene.
14 Don’t Think You’re Above the Rules
A police officer giving a ticket to a fire truck would be a bizarre sight. However, while that technically can’t happen, firemen can be heavily reprimanded for breaking the rules when they’re not supposed to. Going way too fast in a school zone when the sirens aren’t blaring, switching lanes too often, and parking in handicap spots are all frowned on if it’s not an emergency. Likewise is using your status as a fireman for such petty things as getting at the front of a coffee shop line or cutting ahead of others at the store. Just because firemen are on the same side as the cops doesn’t mean they’re above the rules, by any means.
13 Check the Diamond Plate
This term obviously is based on the classic baseball diamond because it looks much the same in design. The plating for firetrucks is an obvious sight, with the metallic covering the rear, sides, and interior. It’s good for expelling water, dirt and other materials and can be cleaned off quickly. However, every firefighter knows that checking the plate when first entering or exiting the vehicle is necessary. While it can appear well bolted down, these plates do have a tendency to come loose given all the pressure and travel they undergo in a single day. A plate coming loose on the back can be dangerous for anyone on it or the truck itself, so constant checks are required.
12 Don’t Rely on GPS
One would assume GPS would be a major boon to firefighters. It allows them to better figure out routes and warns of some dangers on the road. However, most firemen actually try to ignore it. It’s known that GPS can have the tendency to send drivers on a route that's longer than necessary. For firemen, that can be dangerous. A major part of rookie training is having the firemen get used to their area so they can tell street signs and even figure out some shortcuts, which can make all the difference. Also, radios are relied on more to get information on any sudden issues on the road. GPS can be beneficial but firemen prefer to be “old-school” to handle road directions.
11 Never Assume The Equipment Is Fine
Some rookie firefighters tend to grouse a bit about the way the boss's talk non-stop about how every piece of a fire truck has to be triple-checked constantly. But on the job, it becomes obvious why this is necessary. All it takes is one loose screw, one dirty shaft, or some other minor issue and lives are soon in danger. Every piece of equipment must be checked before every run and sometimes checked again on the ride itself. Just because something works perfectly a hundred times doesn’t mean it won’t conk out when needed just once. Thus, the constant check-ups aren’t just for show.
10 Understand Selective Vision
Every driver knows about having “selective vision” on the road. They can pay attention to the main road while also staying aware of some possible problems with other cars. Firemen have to utilize a different version. They need to be aware of cars as soon as they come up to a scene to avoid anything that can block hoses, ladders, or other necessary equipment. Not only do they have to be aware of cars on the road but also any possible roadblocks, shortcuts, or other paths that can alter their drives. Rookie drivers often fail to make these changes, which can cause major problems. A fire truck driver needs to use a different kind of vision in handling these rigs than a normal driver does.
9 Leave Home Issues at Home
Distractions at a normal job can be troublesome. For firefighters, they can be incredibly dangerous. It’s easy for firemen to grouse and complain about issues at home, from marriage issues to kids or money problems. However, when the alarm rings, they’re supposed to leave all that behind. A firefighter who’s anxious and upset is prone to making mistakes that can put himself or his fellow firemen into serious jeopardy. Thus, while firemen can talk about this stuff at the station, they shouldn’t on the truck. In fact, a firefighter who is obviously distracted by personal issues can be ordered to stay behind rather than risk everyone's lives.
8 Never Get Overconfident
Veteran firefighters state the single greatest danger is thinking they're at just another fire. No matter how many blazes they see, all it takes is one dangerous accident to make any particular job their last. Thus, firemen have to treat every blaze as if it’s their first. There’s no taking things lightly, no acting like it's another day at the office, or judging a fire simply by how it looks from the outside. On the truck, the drivers can’t act like a route they’ve taken a dozen times will always be the same. There could be issues of traffic or a random driver to mess things up, which can be very dangerous. A fire truck driver has to be careful not to assume any drive will be normal.
7 Keep Gossiping Down
Gossiping on the job is a common thing in any occupation. Firemen can be much the same and at the station, they can get into conversations about sports, politics, home life, and anything else. However, an unofficial rule is that when the alarm rings, the gossip comes to an end. Firemen need to be focused on the job at hand, not talking about the latest sports scores or what major news is hitting. They also have to avoid such issues as talking about what neighborhood they’re headed into or speculating on what the cause of a fire could be. Talking about this at the station or off-duty is okay but when they’re on the truck, firemen have to put idle chatter behind them.
6 No Food Runs
Police officers often admit to taking their cars for some food runs and ambulance workers can sometimes do the same. However, firemen are pretty much banned from using their trucks for food runs. For one thing, it’s hard to find parking for a huge rig at the local drive-thru or convenience store so just racing out for a sandwich run is tough. However, smaller trucks likewise aren’t used because the sight of one can have people concerned that there’s an emergency. And using the sirens to cut through traffic is a major no-no. If firemen want some food, they need to use their own vehicles rather than the big trucks which are only meant for emergencies.
5 The Right Red
This may seem a bit silly to non-fire personnel. However, firemen take the right shade of red for the truck very seriously. There’s more than one different shade or color and there are even state guidelines to how red a fire truck can be. Hook and ladder trucks tend to be a bit lighter while the smaller trucks are far darker. They can’t just slap any random red paint onto the truck. Instead, firemen have to ensure the red color comes off as striking to other drivers and stands out on the road. It can sound like a minor issue yet having the correct red color is a rule firemen take very seriously.
4 Keep It Clean
This goes one of two ways. First is the obvious importance of making sure the fire truck looks as great as it can. Washing the truck is a huge priority at the station, with firemen pressed to give it a few washes between runs. It’s not just to look good, though, but also prevent any mud or dirt from clogging up the equipment. The other way firemen keep it clean is by trying to keep their language clean on the job. Yes, it’s easy for curses to fly in stressful situations but firemen are meant to be examples for the community and having them curse up a storm is not a good image. Whether it’s the truck itself or the behavior, keeping things clean is a major priority for the trucks.
3 No Cell Phones
This is a rule that’s gotten many a firefighter in trouble. Cell phones are a constant today and firefighters are no exceptions. A few firemen may be tempted to use their phones to take a quick image of a major blaze or incident. However, this is not wise for their jobs as social media may enjoy these pics but the bosses on the job don’t. It’s an invasion of privacy for the victims and has even been known to spark lawsuits. And that's not to mention that firemen should be more interested in the blaze than playing photographer. While cell phones are good for an emergency call, firefighters are told no selfies of any sort while on the job.
2 Low Speed Limit
One would think that a fire truck is allowed to break all speed limits on the way to a fire. However, in some cases, that's not quite true. For the larger trucks, going fast actually increases the risks of a bad situation due to its size and weight. Thus, while being fast is good, fire trucks shouldn’t be speeding. It comes up majorly in Connecticut, where there’s actually a state law holding fire trucks to under 25 miles per hour. Even if it’s a four-alarm blaze, the trucks are not allowed to go faster than most cars, which shows how speeding to a fire isn’t as important as many civilians would assume.
1 Flag Placement
Firefighters take the flag very seriously. This is shown by how fire trucks are often used in big parades alongside military vehicles and representing the community. However, there are truly serious rules for flag etiquette on a fire truck. Only one is allowed to fly and it can never be just draped down. If it’s in a parade, it has to be on a pole of some sort. The only way to have it on at night is if it’s illuminated. Also, if the weather is bad, it’s better to just not have the flag on at all. These rules are taken seriously by firemen because showing the flag is something that firefighters take as a matter of personal, not just national, pride.
Sources: Jalopnik, Thrillist, Fire Rescue 1.