A fire department is composed of many functional units, referred to as companies. At the basic level most departments consist of mainly engine and truck companies. Engine companies are responsible for securing water at the fire scene, putting initial handlines in position, protecting exposures, operating master streams, and extinguishing the fire. Truck companies specialize in supportive operations, such as forcible entry, laddering, utility control, ventilation, and search and rescue. There are some departments that provide their firefighters with apparatus and equipment that can accomplish most of these tasks with one unit and they are referred to as quints.
A quint is a motorized fire apparatus that has five features: a permanently mounted fire pump, an on-board water tank, an area for hose storage, an aerial/elevated platform with a permanently affixed waterway, and an ample supply of ground ladders (see Photo 1). These five basic components are what define the quint's capabilities. The quint has also become more user-friendly over the years. There have been great advancements in reach and stability, shorter wheelbases, and higher powered diesel engines have made these units more capable of any task on the fireground that is required. This apparatus can combat structure fires, provide continued elevated egress, and serve as an elevated master stream all within one unit.
In the era of tough economic times, some will argue that having an apparatus that is equipped to handle multiple functions on the fireground is a good thing. This flexibility allows the first arriving units to be adaptable to the needs of the incident, depending on when they arrive. Should they wind up first on the scene, the crew may be required to establish a water supply and stretch a handline in to extinguish the fire. In the event the quint arrives after the first engine, the crew may need to begin the primary search and ventilation of the fire.
While the deployment of these units definitely have merit, there are operational deficits that must be identified. First and foremost--and this goes for any piece of apparatus--fire apparatus do not put out fires: competent, trained firefighters do. The common misconception that many departments make during the purchase of these units is that the crew is equipped to handle both engine company and ladder company responsibilities on the fireground. To some extent, they are correct; however, the crew can not handle both responsibilities at the same time (see Photo 2). So, for those who think these units staffed with four firefighters can take the place of two four member companies of different competencies, they are in for a surprise: combining companies to run with fewer personnel in inefficient, unsafe, and ultimately means less work on the fireground is getting done. Any type of firefighting apparatus that is "equipped" with less than four firefighters is unsafe and inefficient, no matter what the incident is.
Additionally, all of the upgrades and advancements in apparatus technology come with some limitations. Smaller vehicles come with smaller capabilities, whether it is related to aerial reach, compartmentation, or water tank and hose carrying capabilities. Trying to get all of the equipment necessary to function as two different companies onto the boundaries of one vehicle can be troublesome, requiring departments to make tough decisions on what tools and equipment are more important than other necessities.
The Quint: An Informed Decision
There are many conditions that will weigh heavily on a department's decision to purchase new apparatus. As most departments are facing financial hardship and are being forced to do more with less, the "Quint Concept" seems like an acceptable choice. But, before signing on the dotted line, department leaders are wise to consider these three points: