The cab of my engine is designed to seat two. Three could fit, but there is no center seat belt and the big shifter would be a problem for someone in the center. The truck was clearly designed for firefighters to ride on the back.
You don't see this much anymore, in the eighties it was determined that over a third of firefighter deaths were attributable to accidents while going to or from fires. "Jump cabs", an enclosed space behind the driver, became commonplace among newer engines. I'm extremely glad for the increased safety of firefighters. But I'm also glad that I got the chance to ride on the back of firetrucks in the 1970's while on a VFD.
I suppose it's equivalent to riding a motorcycle without a helmet, that is, an act of natural selection. It really is dangerous and it really feels GREAT! Of the memories burned into my brain, the feel of hurtling down a busy street, lights flashing, siren howling, holding on for dear life surfing the back of the truck as we 'broke' red lights and turned corners will always be fresh and exciting. A large fire engine, loaded with 1000 gallons of water weighs a LOT. Big inertial momentum. Once, while riding on the back of a fully loaded engine, we hit and totaled a Volkswagen beetle. Neither I nor the other firefighter on the back of the truck even knew it happened. There is a sense of immense power combined with open air and the knowledge that you'll fall if if you don't hold on (the illusion sought by all great theme park rides.)
The assistant chief of our VFD (Brent Volunteer Fire Department, Pensacola, FL) was a local bank president. An important figure in the community. A man with much dignitas
, if you know what I mean (if you don't then think of a really boring guy in suit that looks like he has a lot of money.) I remember rushing into the firehouse, throwing on my turnout gear and jumping on the back of a truck just as it was rolling out of the station. The assistant chief was on the back with me and I thought that I should really mind my manners (I was 17.) As we pulled out into the street, with the big Federal siren blaring, the electronic sirens screaming, the wind blowing and the truck lurching I looked over and realized that he was gripping the rails as hard as I was and yelling "WOOOO-WOOOO-WOOOO" like a siren at the top of his lungs. He caught my glance, looked over and grinned like a maniac.
I doubt if I'll ever ride on the back of my engine or allow others to do so on the street. The liability concerns are just too great. Kinda sad. But every day, I walk out to the engine and, just for a moment, stand on the back deck softly going "woooo-woooo-woooo", just for the memories.