The primary functions of a truck company are ventilation and search and rescue. Truck companies have been known by various names throughout fire service history. Hook and Ladders, Aerial Ladders, and Ladder Companies are some of the terms that are still in use today. With the invention of the steam fire engine in the late 1800s, fire companies began to be called fire engines or engine companies. It is believed that the term fire truck or truck was used to differentiate between the steam engines and the truck that brought the ladders.
Modern aerial devices range in height from 55 feet to 135 feet. There are taller ladders, some which range up to 210 feet. These though are far and few between. The easy identification of a truck company is by sight of the large ladder on top of the apparatus. This ladder called the "main" ladder is permanently affixed. Operated hydraulically, the ladder enables the truckmen to reach up to the eighth or ninth floor of a building depending on the proximity of the apparatus to the building.
Also carried on the rig is a selection of ground ladders. These ladders range in height from 14 feet to 50 feet. Ladders ranging from 40 to 50 feet are called Bangor ladders. Poles referred to as tormentors assist in the raising of these heavy ladders.
In addition to ladders, truck companies carry a variety of hand tools. The most common are the fire axe, used for chopping, and the pike pole used for pulling down ceilings and sidewalls. Both tools are also used to break windows. Salvage covers are carried and draped over goods to reduce loss to property from smoke and water damage.
Often called wrecking crews by the public, members of truck companies break out windows and cut holes in roofs to relieve the fire building of toxic smoke and explosive gases. This accomplishes several goals. First, it allows fresh air into the structure.
This enables better visibility for the engine company making the interior attack. With better visibility, companies conducting primary searches will be more likely to find victims for whom the fresh air has bought additional time. Secondly it channels the fire so control can be gained in a more expedient manner. Third, it prevents potentially dangerous flashovers and backdrafts.