What it takes to drive a 42-foot-long fire truck
- Firefighters in New York City train for two weeks on Randall's Island to learn how to drive fire trucks.
- Some fire trucks weigh 40 tons and are 42 feet long.
- Watch the video above to learn what the training is like, which includes lectures, a virtual simulator, and an obstacle course.
Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: What if instead of your mom's Ford Focus, your driver's test was parallel parking this? Parallel parking is just one part of the two-week training that New York City firefighters go through. The end result? They get certified to drive 42-foot-long fire trucks. The training includes lectures, written tests, a virtual driving simulator, and, just as you might expect, an obstacle course.
From the first day, firefighters are behind the wheel, but they aren't ready to drive on city streets yet. They practice just like you might in Driver's Ed, at a parking lot. The first challenge is pretty straightforward. Drive in a straight line between two lines of cones. Then, back up the way you came. After that, it gets trickier. Weave in and out of cones without knocking any of them over and then, do that backwards.Mike Jackson: One of the specific things we work on on the EVOC course is when we're maneuvering through the barrels, is we're lining up, let's say, our rear wheel tire. When that rear wheel tire is lined up against one of the barrels, then we can make our turn and we will not hit that barrel. So even though it seems a little simplistic maybe, but it represents, it could be a car out there. It could be the corner we're trying to get into.
Narrator: Once they've gotten that down next up is parallel parking. Which, after the backwards cone weaving, doesn't look too bad. In fact, they use a similar technique to backing through the obstacle course. They line up the back tire with the car they're trying to park behind. After drivers master the parking lot, it's time to hit the streets. Well, sort of. They practice driving on Randall's Island, located right in between Manhattan and Brooklyn. That's where the Fire Department Training Academy is. In some ways, learning to drive a fire truck is like learning to drive any large vehicle but with one major difference.
Jackson: A big difference between driving our fire trucks as opposed to driving a large vehicle like a bus or a sanitation truck, is that we're responding to emergencies. There's an added stress on the time to get there and everyone handles that differently. We try to prepare the students to be ready for those emergencies.
Narrator: But you can't do a test run in the middle of the city. So instead, one way firefighters prepare for this is by practicing in a simulator. Trainers can program the simulator to mimic different hazards. They can increase the number of cars on the road, make them drive fast or slow, and add things like roadblocks and pedestrians. But not every firefighter learns to chase down fires in the same truck. In fact, from the very start firefighters are divided into companies: the engine company and the ladder company. And this determines which type of truck each firefighter will drive.
Turns out, the term fire truck isn't a catchall. There are two main types of fire trucks in New York City. The fire truck is the one with a ladder on it and a fire engine is the one used to pump water. Fire truck. Fire engine. The ladder truck is 42 feet long and the engine truck is 30 feet long. So maneuvering either one down narrow city streets requires careful driving skills. But a driver's job doesn't end when they arrive at the fire. Once there, the driver of the engine leads the charge for getting water onto the fire. The driver attaches the hose to the fire hydrant to fill the pump in the truck and then, does calculations to make sure there's enough pressure in the hose line to spray out a strong stream of water. At the same time, the driver of a ladder truck raises and positions the ladder or bucket to reach high stories of the building. And if anyone is trapped in the front of the building, they help get those people out.
So you might be wondering what happens if a firefighter doesn't pass the final driver's test.Jackson: We've had that in the past, where students have not shown a proficient skill in driving the vehicles. You'll still go back to your firehouse and be, there's many other positions you can do, so sometimes they can come back. They train a little more at the firehouse and they come back, and then they're a little more proficient or they've gotten better where they pass with no problem.
Narrator: So, next time you see a fire truck barreling towards you, just do what you can to get out of the way. The person behind the wheel of the 42-foot-long 40-ton truck will appreciate it.