Why Do Some Fire Engines Have Two Drivers At The Wheel?

Fire trucks and fire engines come in a vast range of different sizes. Whenever you see a fire engine speeding past you, you may only get a glimpse of the firefighters inside.

The majority of fire engines have only one driver who steers the vehicle and ensures that all passengers get to the scene of the fire safely as soon as possible.

Why Do Some Fire Engines Have Two Drivers At The Wheel?

But you may have also spotted fire engines where there are two drivers behind the wheel.

Are these real fire engines? And why does an emergency vehicle need two drivers?

We find out why some fire engines have two drivers at the wheel.

As an additional note, fire trucks and fire engines are not exactly the same, but the terms are used interchangeably in this article.

Why Does A Fire Truck Have 2 Drivers?

Most fire engines only require one driver to steer the vehicle.

However, tiller fire trucks, also called ladder trucks, need two drivers, as the front and the back wheels need to be steered separately.

The driver in the front steers the front wheelbase of the fire engine, while the rear driver steers the rear end of the fire truck.

As a tiller truck is significantly longer than most other vehicles, it needs two drivers to operate each end of the truck.

This allows turns to be made in narrow spaces, such as smaller streets in cities.

In addition, the driver in the back does have a clear overview of the vehicle and the space it can navigate.

The rear driver is also close to the ladders when the fire engine gets to the scene of the fire, so he operates the ladders.

What Are Tiller Trucks?

There are a couple of different names for tiller trucks, including ladder trucks or hook-and-ladder trucks.

This is a type of fire engine that has a kind of semi-truck tractor which pulls a long trailer that is fully equipped with a long ladder.

This additional length makes it difficult to maneuver around narrow and crowded city streets. These trucks require two drivers to steer the vehicle.

The driver in the rear end of the trailer maneuvers special steering gear that helps to get the trailer safely through narrow streets.

Driver engineers typically operate these vehicles, and they are specially trained in driving fire engines and operating pumps, aerial ladders and other firefighting equipment.

Just like other fire trucks, tiller fire engines carry a large amount of equipment to ensure that firefighters have everything they need to extinguish a fire at the emergency scene.

Traditionally, fire engines were relatively small. They started out as horse drawn wagons with a small water tank.

As cities grew in population and buildings over time, there was an increased demand for fire departments that can reach fire victims through very narrow streets in a short space of time.

This meant that fire engines also had to grow in size, but they needed to be flexible enough to maneuver through the small streets of cities.

This is where the invention of the tiller truck comes in. This semi-like truck has steerable wheels in the front under the cab and in the back of the trailer.

The rear driver steering the back end of the trailer does not only need to operate the steering but he also needs to ensure that mirrors, signals and brakes are used accordingly.

The driver at the rear is also responsible for the operation of the aerial ladder once the fire engine gets to the scene of the fire.

While tiller trucks have many great advantages, some fire departments do not like tiller trucks because they require an additional driver.

This means that they need to have at least two driver engineers at the fire station. Additional staff is not always available, especially at volunteer fire departments.

Although aerial ladder trucks do reduce accidents in narrow streets because their maneuverability is much better than with other fire engines, they require two fully-trained firefighters to operate one vehicle.

The Interior Of A Fire Engine

The Interior Of A Fire Engine

The interior of a fire engine is something that most of us never see when the vehicle speeds past us to get to a fire.

Fire engines are designed in a way that they can carry a good number of fire crew and a large amount of equipment, as well as water in a water tank.

Typically, a large fire engine can carry up to eight firefighters.

The Cabin

Similar to a car, the cabin of a fire engine is divided into two parts. In the front section, you can find the driver of the fire engine and the captain.

On the backseats, also called the jumpseat area, you can find up to six firefighters.

The Dashboard

One of the most important parts of the inside of the fire engine is the dashboard.

Unlike a normal car or truck, the dashboard of a fire truck does not only show the speed and fuel levels.

The driver can operate the pump panel, including a generator and the jet dump (water discharge from the tank), from the front dashboard.

In winter, the driver can also activate automatic tire chains to ensure that the vehicle stays safely on the road in icy conditions.


There are also a number of different communication devices onboard.

This ensures that the driver, captain and firefighters can communicate in an emergency with other emergency services.

Air Packs

Air packs are an essential part of a firefighter’s equipment. You can find all the air packs that the firefighters need in the cabin.

This way, the firefighters just need to put them on before they get to the scene.


Although the majority of fire engines have one firefighter, or driving operator, steering the vehicle, there are some fire engines that require two drivers.

Tiller fire trucks are much longer than the average fire engine, and in order to get through narrow streets safely, they need a driver in the front and a driver in the back.

This makes maneuvering this long, heavy-duty vehicle through narrow streets easier and safer.