Deciphering and Navigating NFPA 1900

By Bill Adams

National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1900, Standard for Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Vehicles, Automotive Fire Apparatus, Wildland Fire Apparatus and Automotive Ambulances, becomes effective Jan. 1, 2024. It is a one-inch thick, 8½x11-inch soft covered book containing 375 pages. It is not an easy read, and it will not fit in your back pocket.

The NFPA website, describing the new NFPA 1900, said “As part of the NFPA Emergency Response and Responder Safety Document Consolidation Plan, the first edition combines NFPA 414, Standard for Aircraft Rescue and Fire-Fighting Vehicles; NFPA 1901, Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus; NFPA 1906, Standard for Wildland Fire Apparatus; and NFPA 1917, Standard for Automotive Ambulances.” 

For an excellent review of what is in NFPA 1900, refer to “A Major Overhaul to the NFPA Apparatus Standards” authored by Bill Peters in the Fire Engineering’s August 2023 Apparatus Supplement.

In it, Peters discusses the whys and wherefores of consolidating the four separate standards into one document. He also explains what has changed in the physical requirements of the apparatus.

This narration will look at NFPA 1900 through the eyes of a former end user with experience in both purchasing and selling fire apparatus. The technical details of the apparatus that are in, removed, or added to the document are irrelevant. How to find what you are looking for without becoming confused and discouraged is. As with anything new, becoming acclimated will take some time.

NFPA 1901 and 1906 will disappear on January 1, 2024. However, purchasers should be aware multiple references to both will remain as long as the current issue of 1900 is in effect. In many of 1900’s 34 chapters and 10 indexes, readers will observe a former standard’s number or numbers in parenthesis. Examples are (NFPA 1901/1906) and (NFPA 1917). I gather they are to indicate the prior standards where the requirements came from or to what kinds of apparatus they’re referring to. To facilitate purchasers in successfully navigating through the new standard, it is helpful to know what former standard applies to their intended purchase. It’ll make it easier to access information.

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This writer has often claimed a purchaser’s specification only has to say the intended apparatus shall be NFPA compliant once – preferably in the beginning of the document. Fire apparatus manufacturers (OEMs), their component parts suppliers, and purchasers alike have interspersed words throughout their specifications similar to “per NFPA 1901” or “in compliance with NFPA 1906.”  Usually found when describing individual line items, they are not consistently used throughout a purchaser’s specification. Get the erasers out. All of those references to specific standard numbers in purchasing specifications must be changed. Better yet, now is an excellent time to delete them altogether.

It is the manufacturer’s responsibility to comply with a one-time requirement for the entire apparatus to be compliant. It is not necessary to remind the OEM of its obligation which can happen multiple times on over a hundred-plus pages of a purchasing specification. If a favored OEM is supplying the fire department with suggested purchasing specifications, ensure the OEM makes all the changes that you want in the document.

Be Specific

Most OEM and purchaser specifications have used terminology similar to “The apparatus shall be in 100% compliance with NFPA 1901.” That requirement was somewhat vague before, but it definitely is now with the new NFPA 1900. Leaving airport (ARFF) vehicles and ambulances out of the equation, there are 10 types of apparatus in NFPA 1900. Which one does the apparatus have to be compliant to? It may be advantageous to write something to the effect of “The apparatus shall be 100% compliant to NFPA 1900 for Pumper Fire Apparatus.” Or, “The apparatus shall be 100% compliant to NFPA 1900 for Quint Fire Apparatus.”

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In the case of Initial Attack Fire Apparatus, Special Service Fire Apparatus, and Wildland Fire Suppression Apparatus it would be advisable for purchasers to include the vehicle size by its Gross Vehicle Weight Rating (GVWR). There are three sizes of initial attacks, four of wildland suppression rigs and seven for special service rigs. Definitive descriptions describing an intended apparatus facilitates manufacturers in the initial design and layout. It also gives a direction and reference point for purchasers to follow when researching the standard to find requirements pertinent to the intended purchase.

Before 1900, apparatus requirements were listed under separate chapters for each kind of rig. They are not now. If you want to look up requirements such as the rollover stability, compartment capacities and recommended equipment, the new standard has individual charts and tables. Make sure you know exactly what kind of rig you are purchasing. Interestingly, there are 10 sub-chapters “reserved” in NFPA 1900 for the various types of apparatus. It may be premature to refer to them now.

Hybrids & Unknowns

It is recommended purchasers avoid using terminology not recognized by the NFPA 1900 standard. That includes mini-pumper, midi-pumper, brush truck or a National Wildfire Control Group (NWCG) “Type” classification.  Also included are Pumper-Rescue, Rescue-Pumper, Pumper-Tanker or Tanker-Pumper.

Such descriptions are local in description or OEM driven. Call them what you want, but bear in mind the NFPA 1900 has no formal descriptions for any of them. Do you want your new rig to be NFPA 1900 compliant as both a Pumper and a Mobile Water Supply Apparatus? Can your new rig be compliant as an Initial Attack Fire Apparatus that also meets the NWCG requirements for a Type 6 “Initial Attack, Brush Patrol”? Those questions are above my pay grade. If you have a question about the standard, contact the NFPA. Their mailing and email addresses are in the front of the standard. You can also ask the apparatus manufacturers. Ask and get your answers in writing. If it’s not in writing, it does not exist. Good luck.

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BILL ADAMS is a member of the Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment Editorial Advisory Board, a former fire apparatus salesman, and a past chief of the East Rochester (NY) Fire Department. He has 50 years of experience in the volunteer fire service.


The National Fire Protection Association's NFPA 1900 Standard for Aircraft Rescue and Firefighting Vehicles, Automotive Fire Apparatus, Wildland Fire Apparatus and Automotive Ambulances becomes effective Jan. 1, 2024. It is not an easy read and it will not fit in your back pocket.

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