What is a Hook & Ladder Truck?

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Firefighting vehicles come in a variety of different forms. Pumper trucks, for instance, bring water to fires by using large hoses that connect to fire hydrants. Water tenders carry large amounts of water to areas where fire hydrants aren’t as easily accessible. There are also trucks known as hook and ladder trucks. Hook and ladder trucks go by several different names, such as tiller trucks or tractor drawn aerial.

Definition

  • Trucks featuring a rescue ladder as well as the pulleys to go with it were known as hook and ladder trucks. The gears and pulleys were, prior to the mechanization of the process, used by several firefighters to lift the heavy ladders for use. The gears and pulleys of old have been replaced by hydraulic lifts, and this type of ladder truck is usually referred to as a tiller truck instead. A tiller truck’s purpose is to allow firefighters to rescue any trapped individuals in tall buildings. Tiller trucks are also useful in areas where streets are more narrow.

Invention

  • The earliest fire trucks did not feature the ladder common on later trucks. These trucks, according to Auto Evolution, were basically water pumps on wheels, created around the 1700s. This type of truck didn’t allow for firefighters to rescue people in higher floors of a building, however, once building architecture began climbing higher. In 1868, the first aerial ladder was patented by Daniel Hayes, according to Firefighter Central. Hayes sold the rights to his patent to LaFrance, and wood ladders were then constructed for firefighters that could be carried with their trucks. The ladders were often very heavy and required the efforts of several firefighters, according to Auto Evolution. The firefighters would lift the ladders as needed using gears and pulleys, giving rise to the name hook and ladder truck.

Early Design

  • Because of the efforts involved in raising a ladder, designs were created that would simplify this process. In 1902, Seagrave created an automated lift for these ladders using springs, according to Firefighter Central. From this point, the majority of hook and ladder trucks adopted the spring-raising mechanism. Tiller trucks, formerly powered first by hand-drawing, then by a team of horses, soon became pulled by gas-powered vehicles. In 1923, the truck production company Ahrens-Fox developed aerial ladders that reached far beyond the former 20-foot limit. These ladders could reach up to 85 feet. Additionally, the new aerial ladder design began to be accompanied by smaller portable ladders that helped lower the height of trucks. Mack Trucks designed a mechanized ladder for trucks in 1929, which quickly became a standard feature in tiller trucks.

Modern Design

  • Tiller trucks are designed in a way that is meant to help firefighters work faster and more efficiently. According to the Bakersfield Fire Department, tiller trucks feature two sections--the cab and the chassis. The cab of the truck, designed somewhat like a semi-trailer, is driven by one driver, while the chassis, the section containing the ladder, is controlled by another firefighter. The firefighter controlling the rear part of the truck is known as the tillerman, according to Cincinnati Fire Department History. Ladders have become longer on tiller trucks, with most measuring around 100-feet. Wooden ladders have been replaced by metal ladders with handrails.

Future

  • Tiller trucks marked a turning point in fire apparatus history. However, with the invention of newer trucks, their future is uncertain. Trucks with multiple functions, such as combining ladders with hose functions, are becoming the norm in the industry. Tiller trucks are being used less often as a result. In cities such as Cincinnati, their use may become obsolete completely.

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References

  • Photo Credit fire truck ladder image by Tammy Mobley from Fotolia.com
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