Fire was an ever-present peril in early Ann Arbor. During the city’s first century, volunteer firefighters manning hand pumps gave way to professionals tending horse-drawn steam pumps and then to the first motorized fire trucks.

Fires today are rare, but the Ann Arbor Fire Department has taken on many new missions (see Up Front, p. 11). If you live or work near a major street, most days you’re likely to see a shiny red engine, lights flashing, siren screaming, answering a call. It’s a compelling sight: mechanical beasts speeding brave men and women toward potentially heroic action on behalf of the community.

To learn more about these muscular trucks, Bob met assistant chief Amy Brow at Fire Station 1, across from City Hall on N. Fifth Ave. Brow and assistant mechanic Mike Reddmann provided a wealth of detail.

Although civilians use the terms “fire engine” and “fire truck” interchangeably, to firefighters, a fire truck has a built-in turntable to which is mounted a powered, multipart extension ladder with a platform or bucket at the end. The Ann Arbor Fire Department has two such “towers,” both with buckets–a 2013 Sutphen SPH 100, capable of extending its aerial ladder 100 feet and pumping 2,000 gallons of water a minute, and a 1996 Emergency One model, held for backup when the Sutphen is out of service, that can deliver 1,500 gpm.

Fire engines carry portable extension ladders. Like the trucks, they are powered by diesel engines and capable of pumping 1,250 to 1,500 gallons of water per minute. Both trucks and engines also carry fire rescue and basic life support equipment.

Our fire engine photo showcases Engine 3, a 2001 Pierce Rescue unit. It has a heavier suspension and more compartments than the city’s other engines, allowing it to carry heavy technical rescue equipment such as rams, cutters, and Jaws of Life, used to pry accident victims from wrecked vehicles.

The AAFD has a variety of other equipment as well, ranging from a pickup for use by the battalion chief to an inflatable boat for water and ice rescue.

Each of Ann Arbor’s five operational fire stations has one vehicle staffed round the clock–all fire engines except for Station 1’s tower truck. Station 1 also has a fire engine, one of a number of older vehicles kept in service in case they’re needed as backups. Typically only the closest vehicle responds to a medical emergency or assistance call, but all staffed units will respond to a confirmed fire.

Each fire truck or engine is staffed by at least three people. Each shift also has a battalion chief who directs the activity at confirmed fires and major incidents. That works out to a minimum of sixteen personnel per shift, though there are times when more may be on duty.

Every one of these men and women must be brave, resourceful, and highly skilled. When we see a fire engine or fire truck answering a call, we silently applaud.