Fire engine, fire truck, fire brigade vehicle

I was subbing some copy recently that used the uncomfortable phrase "fire brigade vehicle". I changed this almost automatically to "fire engine" but then started wondering whether I'd done the right thing. Two issues were on my mind:

1. 'Fire engine' might be a totally or predominantly British English phrase. The Concise OED doesn't say so, although Googling 'fire engine' throws up a suspiciously high proportion of UK pages. I know that Americans might refer to a 'fire truck' but I don't know what the difference in usage is between 'fire truck' and 'fire engine' Stateside. 'Fire truck' doesn't appear in my Concise at all.

(Of course, the publication I work for is aimed at a British readership so really this isn't a big factor, but it's still interesting – and might explain why the writer shied away from using 'fire engine' in the first place.)

2. I don't know enough to say, but it could be that "fire brigade vehicle" is a more general term than "fire engine", covering vehicles other than those used to carry "firefighters and their equipment" (OED again). There was no way to tell from the story what type of vehicle was being referred to, so perhaps I should have played it safe.

My questions to you are: was I right to make the change? And what do you personally consider the difference is between 'fire engine', 'fire truck' and 'fire brigade vehicle'? Thanks!

18 comments:

lynneguist said...

Fire engine is perfectly fine in American English. (I think of fire truck as something I'd be more likely to say to a four-year-old who's excited by such things.)

Gloom Raider said...

I agree: "fire engine" is perfectly fine over here.

As to "fire brigade vehicle"...where I live, the fire chief has, I believe, a police-car-like sedan with lights on top. Even so, I'd never call that a "fire brigade vehicle." You can't fit much of the brigade in it, for one thing.

Sarah said...

I can't see 'fire brigade vehicle' being used commonly. Imagine you're in an emergancy, your house is on fire and you shout 'somebody call 999, we need a fire brigade vehicle' You'd be dead before anyone even got chance to pick up the phone!

mighty red pen said...

As lynneguist says, except when talking to my kids (both under 5) I'd use fire engine. Fire truck is easier for little kids to say. You didn't say the context of the reference, but I'd venture to guess that "fire brigade vehicle" would refer to any of the other related vehicles -- ambulance, etc. -- but I think it's imprecise at best and lazy at worst, actually. Much better to say which vehicle you actually mean.

Gez said...

I think your writer is guilty of shying away from the common term in favour of sounding important. Tell him to stop being pretentious. Writers love that.

mighty red pen said...

Yes, and make sure you sign your comments "Love, GrammarBlog."

The Ridger, FCD said...

"Fire brigade"? My sister is a fire chief and I've never heard her use that term. They're fire engines to most Americans. She sometimes says "ladder truck" or "EMT vehicle", but "fire brigade"? I think that went out with horses.

Anonymous said...

Fire Truck vs. Fire Engine

I spoke with a friend whose a volunteer firemen in New Jersey and asked him if there's a difference between Fire Engines and Fire Trucks. While it's a little-known fact, he said Fire Engines are different than Fire Trucks and perform different tasks when attacking a fire. The following comments are a summary of our conversation, combined with information I found while researching the topic online.

A Fire Engine has a pump (i.e., the "engine") and hoses and its primary duties are fire attack and suppression. They may have an on-board water reservoir, allowing it to fight a fire immediately upon arrival, or may be completely reliant on external sources, such as fire hydrants, water tender, river or reservoir, by using draft water suction.

Fire Trucks are anything else, though primarily they are the vehicles with a large, extending ladder (i.e., aerials) that typically rotates at the base, and whose primary duties are search/rescue and ventilation. The trucks ladder may also have a fixed pumping "cannon" (called a fire monitor or deluge) and/or basket located at the end of the ladder. In some departments "Fire Truck" might also be a general term used to describe ALL the equipment the department has.

Many departments utilize both of these vehicles (Fire Engine and Fire Truck) in concert with each other. The "truck company" opens the building up for the "engine company" to bring the hose in and put out the fire, then they go up and look for victims as well as makes ventilation openings to support the engine company's progress. [quote from unknown source]

Of course, the above definitions may vary, even among neighboring fire departments. At the end of the day it pretty much comes down to what a department wants to call its "trucks" and what job is given to them. Some places call their Fire Trucks aerial ladders, towers, etc., and their Fire Engines might be referred to as tankers, tenders, pumpers and wagons.

As this topic can be easily confused, I've intentionally left out the majority of details regarding the on-board equipment and such these vehicles carry, and also how the mechanical aspects of each vehicle's transmission can sometimes be used to differentiate between them.

Many thanks to my friend, Kevin C., for teaching me the differences between Fire Engines and Fire Trucks. A special thank you to JD for inviting me to share my comments in his blog, and for notifying me about his usage of my Fire Truck photo (which is labeled as a "Tower" truck by one of my local fire departments – Oye-vey – LOL). Lastly, my thanks (and apologies) to those reading this post, as well as the online sources I gleaned some of my information from, for not remembering the URLs of the "source" sites.

Kind Regards,
Kenn K., Pataskala, OH
Please view my BIGGEST online photo gallery: http://morguefile.com/archive/?author=click

JD said...

Wow, thanks everyone - especially Kenn K. Very informative! Kenn actually supplied the photo I used on the post so he's helped out twice.

'Fire brigade' on its own is quite a common term here in the UK ('London Fire Brigade' for example), and seems to compete with 'fire service' ('West Midlands Fire Service' for example).

Personally I'd use the former in conversation: "Call the fire brigade! I've been trying to cook again!" And definitely not 'fire department'...

Apus said...

I wonder if the word 'brigade' is used because the fire service is run along military lines in terms of its clear command structure and strict discipline?

Obscure trivia: I once read that the first UK brigades were funded by insurance companies so if your house was uninsured, or insured with the wrong company, a team of firefighteers would turn up and watch it burn...

Apus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew said...

How about "fire appliance"? It's horrible, but it seems to be the generic term.

Wikipedia seems to make little or no distinctions between the various terms.

Anonymous said...

I hate leaving comments on your site as I read them back and imagine you pulling them to pieces. I just realised that "little or no distinction" is probably decidedly infra dig.

And now I'm wondering if "infra dig" is the phrase I mean.

Oh, poo.

JD said...

If you are scared leaving comments, imagine how I feel writing posts! I have a crack team of highly intelligent, nitpicking readers ready to jump on every error. That's why I include the occasional deliberate mistake... I suggest you do the same.

Apus said...

Hey I thought I was the only one inserting deliberate mistales!

candace said...

Fire appliance? Never heard that term before. My husband's department calls all of their vehicles "apparatus" as a general term, and "equipment" for all the other tools they use. But never have used the term "appliance."

fine thin hair said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
softballgrl61620 said...

There are large differences between them.

Fire Trucks carry ladders and hooks, and the bigger guys who ventilate the house(break windows), and they find the fire.

Fire engines carry the water/hose, and they put out the fire.

There's also the Squad/Rescue Truck, it looks like an engine, but doesn't carry water, it carry's five men who's job is to search and rescue, they are to go to the hottest location in the house and find people.