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The Legacy of Firefighting: Fire Trucks, Hoses, and Couplings in the 1920s


The 1920s were a transformative period for firefighting, marked by the advent of mechanized fire trucks and advancements in firefighting equipment. During this era, fire trucks were a far cry from the technologically advanced apparatus we see today. This article takes you on a journey through time, exploring the fascinating world of fire trucks, hoses, and couplings in the 1920s. From the sturdy chassis to the Storz couplings and manual hose reels, we delve into the innovations, challenges, and enduring legacy of the firefighting equipment that shaped an era.

In the 1920s, fire trucks were significantly different from modern fire apparatus. Here's an overview of what fire trucks were like then:

Chassis: Fire truck chassis were often custom-built or modified from commercial vehicles, such as passenger cars or trucks. They were typically heavy-duty to accommodate the added weight of firefighting equipment.

Power Source: Fire trucks in the 1920s were primarily powered by gasoline engines, although a few models used steam engines. The engines had relatively low horsepower compared to modern standards.

Pumping Equipment: Fire trucks of that era were equipped with centrifugal pumps driven by the vehicle's engine. These pumps were capable of generating water flow and pressure for firefighting purposes. However, their capacities were generally lower than modern pumps.

Water Tanks: Many fire trucks of the 1920s carried their water supply on board in large cylindrical tanks made of steel or wood. These tanks had limited capacities and could often hold a few hundred gallons of water.

Hose Reels: Fire trucks typically had reels mounted on the vehicle's sides or rear, holding fire hoses. These hoses were manually pulled off the reels and connected to Storz couplings or other fittings.

Ladders and Equipment: Fire trucks carried various firefighting tools, including ladders, axes, pike poles, and salvage equipment. These items were often stored on the sides or rear of the vehicle.

Sirens and Lights: Fire trucks in the 1920s used mechanical sirens or bells to alert people of their presence. They were also equipped with gas-powered or oil-burning lamps for illumination during nighttime operations.

The Fire Truck Chassis: A Foundation of Strength

In the 1920s, fire truck chassis were often built from scratch or modified from existing commercial vehicles. They were sturdy and heavy-duty, designed to withstand the weight of firefighting equipment and the demands of emergency response. Many manufacturers customized chassis to suit specific fire department requirements, ensuring optimal performance on the field.

Powering the Response: Engines and Pumps

During this period, fire trucks primarily relied on gasoline engines for propulsion. These engines, although less powerful than their modern counterparts, provided sufficient power for firefighting operations. Some fire trucks even used steam engines, which required time to generate the necessary steam pressure.

Integral to the fire truck's functionality was the centrifugal pump, typically driven by the vehicle's engine. These pumps were responsible for generating water flow and pressure required to extinguish fires. While their capacities were limited compared to today's pumps, they were crucial in the firefighting efforts of the time.

Water Supply on Wheels: Tanks and Hoses

In the 1920s, fire trucks carried water on board in cylindrical tanks. These tanks, constructed of steel or wood, had a capacity ranging from a few hundred to several thousand gallons. The amount of water a fire truck could carry depended on factors such as the size of the tank and the truck's weight limitations.

To deploy water from the truck's tanks, fire departments relied on hoses. Fire hoses during this era were typically made of durable fabric, which was susceptible to wear and damage over time. The hoses were manually wound on reels mounted on the sides or rear of the fire truck. Firefighters had to skillfully unspool and connect hoses, preparing them for firefighting operations.

Couplings and Connections: Storz and More

To ensure efficient and reliable connections between hoses, fire departments utilized various couplings in the 1920s. One notable coupling design that emerged during this time was the Storz coupling, invented by German engineer Carl August Guido Storz. Storz couplings revolutionized the firefighting industry with their symmetrical male and female halves, featuring interlocking lugs or grooves that provided a secure and watertight connection.

The Storz coupling's innovative design allowed for rapid and effortless coupling and uncoupling of hoses, significantly reducing response times during emergencies. Its compatibility across different fire departments and regions made it a widely adopted standard for firefighting connections, a legacy that endures to this day.

In addition to Storz couplings, other coupling designs were also utilized during the 1920s. These included threaded couplings, often found on older fire trucks, and instantaneous couplings, which relied on cam levers for quick connections. While these designs had their advantages, the Storz coupling's simplicity and efficiency made it a game-changer in the field of firefighting.

Safety and Visibility: Sirens, Lights, and Equipment

Fire trucks of the 1920s incorporated several features to enhance safety and visibility during emergency response. Mechanical sirens or bells were commonly used to alert people of the fire truck's presence, ensuring that pedestrians and other vehicles cleared the way.

For nighttime operations, fire trucks were equipped with gas-powered or oil-burning lamps. These lamps provided illumination, enabling firefighters to work efficiently in low-light conditions. The lamps were often mounted on the front, sides, and rear of the vehicle, ensuring visibility from all angles.

Fire trucks also carried an array of firefighting equipment. Ladders, axes, pike poles, and salvage equipment were stored on the sides or rear of the vehicle, easily accessible for immediate use during emergencies.


The fire trucks, hoses, and couplings of the 1920s reflect an era of innovation and perseverance in the face of fire-related challenges. Despite the limitations of technology at the time, these early firefighting apparatus played a crucial role in protecting lives and property. The legacy of the 1920s lives on in the modern fire trucks and firefighting equipment we have today. As we appreciate the advancements in technology and firefighting techniques, we must also acknowledge the ingenuity and determination of the past, which laid the foundation for the safety and efficiency we enjoy in firefighting today.

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