Why Do We Send a Fire Truck with Each Ambulance Call?

I’m often asked why we send a fire truck on every medical call.  Does it really require an ambulance and a fire truck for many of the minor injuries? It seems a waste to drive a very fuel-inefficient fire engine to something where the additional personnel are not needed.  

While there are some calls for emergency medical assistance that can easily be handled with just the two personnel on the ambulance, there are many that require additional help.  Nearly every EMS system sends a unit to “back” the ambulance for a number of reasons.  First, nearly every life threatening emergency incident is best handled with at least two paramedics in addition to the driver.  Second, there is not always enough reliable information on the patient condition to determine if additional help is needed. Valuable time may be lost if additional personnel are not dispatched until the ambulance arrives and makes an assessment. Finally, even so called “routine” medical calls often require the patient to be lifted into the back of the ambulance.  Even if the patient is not obese, it is safer for the patient and for the backs of the medics to have additional help to lift. 

When the fire truck is not needed on an incident, it is released to go back into service as soon as possible. The cost of the fuel to have the extra help immediately available when it is needed is a small cost when compared to the loss of precious minutes when a life is on the line

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  1. Anonymous

    Majoring in paramedics and firefighting. I feel that it makes the job more appealing knowing I can go on paramedic and fire calls as opposed to other cities where I will have to choose one or the other.

  2. How nice that you answered that as I’ve often wondered myself! So thank you. Though I have to say I still don’t quite understand why the truck itself has to go when, as you explain, most often it’s an issue of needing extra man- or woman-power rather than needing something that only the truck can provide. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy them a Honda Civic and equip it with a siren to follow behind the ambulance?
    : )

    1. Anonymous

      Excellent point!! Someone who knows, Please reply. My elderly mother just got a HUGE bill for her ambulance ride. That “Medicare will pay” doesn’t cut it for a taxpayer.

    2. Susan

      If you’re not; you should be running for city mayor or city council! You make such perfect, logical sense. Oh wait, that would never do in government. I was asking the same question of my hometown, Portland, OR.

    3. CJ

      There are now larger EMS vehicle with pumpers built in, what they don’t tell you is that fires are down nationally about 70 percent in the last 30 years. Yet the fire budgets and apparatus $$$ grow and get wasted at alarming levels. Adjusting with the times would cost union jobs and it is hard to get efficiency and change out of the system.

      1. Jason Batz

        Despite popular belief residential fires are on the rise:

        Are home fires increasing?
        Unfortunately, yes. The National Fire Protection Association
        (NFPA) reports that residential fires across the country have
        increased 8 percent since 2000, and the average cost of
        damages from a home fire during 2006 was more than

  3. Anonymous

    Although a Honda Civic would be more fuel effecient, many do not realize the reason you often see firefighters driving around in the fire trucks is that they must be ready to respond to anywhere, anytime. If they were to be driving some other vehicle for fuel efficiency reasons, and a fire call were to come in, it could delay a response to a fire for at least ten minutes as they returned to the station to trade back into the fire truck.

    1. Jav

      If three people are need three people should be assigned per ambulance.

      1. AJ

        Now you have to hire, pay, train, cloth, give benefits and retirement and house three additional people per rescue unit in a department. Ask anyone familiar with a fire department budget and they will tell you that personnel is already the most expensive part of the fire service by far.

  4. Helen Anderson

    Case in point: when they responded to the tabernacle call, they were returning from a call in East Bay. I don’t think it was a medical call, but the point is, they were on their way back from something and already in their truck so they could get to the reported fire quickly. In fact, they reached the tabernacle within 60 seconds of receiving the call.

  5. Anonymous

    Most cities also have 3-4 firefighters on the fire engine, where Provo only has 2.

  6. Anonymous

    Provo utilizes a little model where there are 4 firefighters per station. The other 2 are assigned to an ambulance instead of the back seat of the engine. In the same reasoning why a fire engine or truck responds to a medical call, the ambulance responds to all fire calls as well to provide as the paramedics assigned to it are also firefighters.

  7. Anonymous

    If a fire engine ends up at the farthest reaches of it’s district because it’s responding to a medical emergency, how many precious minutes are saved in responding to the structure fire?

  8. i appreciate the smoke and mirrors by the firemen but the real reason is that years ago the firemen began to realize that they were becoming obsolete, so they scrambled to find a way to keep a job. back when wooden rowhouses were common, there were fires, today with metal and concrete structures, firemen are need much, much less, we could get by with 20% of what we have, you have to weigh risk verses cost, silly as it sounds a volunteer system would work in most places, a privatized fire dept could operate at a small fraction of the cost, no ridiculous pensions. let business own and manage the service

    1. CJ

      You are correct Pat.

  9. Engines must be started and driven or they will gum up and stop working properly. You must continue to send fire engines out on 911 calls. The personnel are required and the fire engines need exercise.

  10. Jason

    Sending a fire truck every time also puts regular miles on the vehicles, so that larger departments can justify using tax money to purchase new vehicles periodically while moving the older ones on to rural departments.

  11. shane otvos

    Thanks for the info #UtahDigitalSummit

  12. Renée

    I live on the corner of a busy intersection in SL and see an accident every now and then. I’ve wondered why an accident with two cars would require two fire trucks, three ambulances, and six police cars, but in addition to gathering facts, tending the wounded, and cleaning up debris, all these officials have to deal with crowd control too. Fire trucks make excellent visual cues to oncoming traffic that THIS STREET IS CLOSED, so go find another way around. Multiply that by 4 for a busy intersection, and it makes sense why so many emergency personnel would respond to a scene.

    Mayor Curtis, I am one of the people who heard your presentation today at the Digital Summit. Thanks for writing this post, and the presentation was great. :o)

  13. Annonymous

    I think sending a firetruck along with a paramedic vehicle is crazy – another way to gouge the insurance company, save jobs and pay more pensions. if more than 3 paramedics are needed (2 in the front and 1 inside) then have a bonus (small vehicle) follow along behind. If a fire call comes in and he is not needed, then he can meet the fire truck wherever it goes. Totally ridiculous to have a fire truck (and personnel) show up when not needed.

  14. Masa

    Still doesn’t make any sense at all, it seems like the pharmacists, the red cross people should be involved also, & send cars too.
    The Firefighters should simply just do their job, that’s not their field.

  15. derek

    Ive always wondered why this happens and now I see both sides of the fence on this.
    One side being on the automotive accident cases, its just a good idea to have the fire trucks present because they normally come in handy. But I live in a city thats very busy and yes, it seems a bit over the top that they a huge fire truck gets rolling every time a medical emergency gets under way for grandma or grandpa thats having some gas related chest pains. I could realistically see the benefit of these huge trucks being on scene for about 15% of the calls. Also, its pretty frustrating being stuck in rush hour traffic, with the added bonus of 3 lanes shut down over a fender bender because they have to make a big scene with 3 to 5 polices cars, an ambulance or 2, and yes the enormous big red hose truck when you pass by and realize they are all standing around cutting jokes about the girl with huge boobs they just got rescued from that horrific fender bender, while we all get thru the bottle neck of one lane of traffic passing one car at a time. I no that sounds a bit dramatic to some, but trust me where I live, its all too familiar and I am actually a big supporter of police and fire and dont mean be jerk…
    I think the standard just needs a revaluation and a more efficient solution be implemented. Heck, its got to be cheaper to run 2 ambulances rather than 1 ambulance and a fire truck, right? If I’m wrong, what about contracted help? Aren’t there EMS contractors that could respond on call if its that much more?

  16. Robert Scarbrough

    Sending a fire truck with a paramedic and/or ambulance to a medical emergency where no fire exist is just a way to waste taxpayer money to increase job security for fireman.

    1. Jack Roberts

      Spot on Robert a total waste of money.
      They are firefighters not Ambulance Techs.

      1. JoeDirtsquad

        The majority of departments that run fire engines to EMS calls have their firefighters EMT certified and many are paramedics as well. So any firefighter who is also paramedic certified is actually within their ‘field.’In most places there aren’t nearly as many ambulances as they’re are fire engines, so having an engine respond with an ALS qualified crew can increase response times and patient care significantly. Every second counts when someone is having a life threatening medical emergency.

  17. pat studer

    horsewoman states engines gum up and must be used regularly, in my town of 250 people, a guy will check the trucks once a week, these are older trucks and always start if they have good batteries and are in a semi warm building in the winter. i have seen diesels sit 30 years and start right up if they have fresh fuel. the poorer we become in this country and the more debt we accumulate, some expenses will have to be reduced, fire depts. are prime candidates for cost reductions.

  18. Fear of Reprisal

    Working EMT in Colorado

    Sending fire for every call is an absolute waste of money. The Ambulance crew should be responsible for requesting an engine if needed. If I’m dispatched to a MVA with 3 vehicles I will call an engine. If Im called for an apneic pulseless individual, I will call for an engine. I do not need an engine for a 34 year old who is feeling suicidal (PD will be enroute). I do not need an engine for a 22 year old who is feeling light headed. There is plenty of need for fire, but not for every call.

    We get an oven fire on a regular basis. They send 2-3 engines, battalion chief, a tower, and an ambulance. All in the name of numbers on their reports to give to the city for funding of next years budget. This is absolutely wasteful as well. We need to revamp the system…

  19. I don’t understand why I had to pay $730.00 for a fire truck that came out when they just stood there and the paramedics did what they had to do and took the patient to the hospital. T he insurance does not cover fire trucks .

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