Peculiar Pittsburgh

How Pittsburgh fire trucks navigate the South Side Slopes

You can make their lives easier, too.

Two of Pittsburgh's newest, custom-made firetrucks

Two of Pittsburgh's newest, custom-made firetrucks

courtesy of pittsburgh public safety
MJ Slaby

Updated 1:09 p.m.

Pittsburgh isn’t exactly known for wide streets and ample parking.

So when this question came to Peculiar Pittsburgh from an anonymous reader, we decided to investigate:

“How much trouble is it for firetrucks to navigate the narrow streets on the Slopes?”

The short answer? Very.

“It’s very challenging, because the city wasn’t designed for the firetrucks we have now,” Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones said. And he’s not just talking about the streets in the South Side Slopes. It’s all city streets.

That’s why Pittsburgh has specially-made trucks, he said.

Ladder trucks are 96 inches wide, compared to a 101-inch standard, and the back of trucks here taper to 88 inches, giving drivers a little extra room on tight turns, according to Pittsburgh Public Safety.

“To the average person, the truck’s going to be red and white, but to a firefighter, he’s going to notice some things,” Jones said.

Other differences include recessed grab rails, bar lights, and air conditioning units. Parts of the exterior have rubber instead of stainless steel so there’s less damage if the truck brushes against something else. For going up and down hills, Jones said, the trucks have extra horsepower and brakes.

Most of the fire bureau’s trucks are custom-made, and in June, firefighters started using two of the newest ladder trucks in Oakland and Elliott, which helps cover Ingram Borough. To design the trucks, a committee from Pittsburgh fire worked with Glick Fire Equipment Company in Zelienople, and Pierce Manufacturing in Wisconsin made the trucks for $890,000 each, according to a Public Safety news release from earlier this summer.

But just because the trucks are smaller doesn’t mean that it’s not challenging to drive them — especially around parked cars, Jones said.

“People park to the corner causing tighter turns,” he said, adding that a truck can’t swing around at the end of the corners. And if the truck can’t get around at all, then Jones said firefighters have to find an alternate route or be farther and drag the hose down the street. “It complicates things a lot.”

It’s your turn. Ask your questions about Pittsburgh and our region.