The Motorized Fire Apparatus Timeline


When motorized vehicles first appeared at the turn of the last century, it didn’t take long to adapt the technology to fire apparatus. Fire departments first experimented with motorized vehicles using runabouts, or standard production automobiles, assigned to chief officers.

It soon became clear that there were many advantages to using motorized vehicles, including durability and cost, when compared to horse-drawn apparatus. Nevertheless, some firefighters were reluctant to adopt the new vehicles. Over a period of time the switch was eventually completed nationwide; however, a number of innovations had to take place:

  • In 1906, Waterous Engine Works delivered the first gasoline-powered fire engine to the Radnor Fire Company of Wayne, Pennsylvania.
  • By the end of 1906, Knox and Combination Ladder Company, originally a manufacturer of horse-drawn apparatus, began to advertise an assortment of motorized apparatus for fire departments.
  • In 1909, the Tea Tray Company manufactured the first triple combination pumper on an American Mors chassis. It included a pump, hose bed and chemical tanks. Prior to this, most had operated as two-piece companies, using a steamer and a separate hose wagon.
  • In 1909, the International Motor Company (now Mack Trucks) delivered a motorized tractor to Allentown, Pennsylvania that may have been the country’s first motorized ladder apparatus.
  • In 1910, American LaFrance began the manufacture of a combination chemical hose wagon for Lenox, Massachusetts.
  • In 1912, Christie Front Drive Auto Company began the manufacture of two-wheel tractors that were used to motorize fleets of horse-drawn steamers, ladder trucks and water towers. This market, which lasted about 10 years, made it possible for fire departments to modernize their fleet without having to start from scratch.
  • The 1920s saw the introduction of the quad. This apparatus was a stretched triple combination pumper chassis that also carried ground ladders. This provided an attractive option for fire departments that didn’t need to service high buildings, allowing them to save on the purchase of a ladder truck.
  • In 1928, Pirsch and Sons introduced the first custom-built enclosed cab fire apparatus for the city of Monroe, Wisconsin. Considered to be ahead of its time, these did not replace open-cab pumpers until the 1950s.

The switch to motorized fire apparatus enabled fire departments to save money and more effectively service their community. For more information on the evolution of fire apparatus, see our blog The Fire Truck: A Representation of Pride and Identity Throughout History.

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