Austria-based manufacturer Rosenbauer recently toured its concept electric fire engine through California’s coastal communities, offering an early look at the potential future of the vehicles.
LIVE OAK, Calif. – Not unlike the tour bus it resembled, arrival of the world’s first electric-powered fire engine Monday turned heads on the streets and drew a small crowd around it while parked.
The “Concept Fire Truck,” an electric-powered vehicle first unveiled by Austria-based manufacturer Rosenbauer in 2016, added Central Fire District’s administrative headquarters to stops at Pacific Coast “progressively minded fire departments.” Central and Aptos-La Selva fire districts’ Battalion Chief Anthony Cefaloni said the agencies purchased four traditional diesel-powered fire vehicles from the company in recent years, and so came up as a natural partner for the American tour.
“Fire engines take up a big carbon footprint. Right now, we run eight-cylinder diesel engines and they are constantly running,” Cefaloni said. “We have a couple impacts that we know about — maintenance, diesel use and exhaust and just longevity.”
Cefaloni said that, for small fire agencies such as Central and Aptos-La Selva — which are in the process of merging — the trucks’ expected $1.2 million price tag could make for a long wait locally. The districts typically spend an average of $500,000 to $600,000 on new fire engines, he said, and set aside annual funding on 15-year cycles to finance new purchases.
“It’s starting to figure out what’s out there, how do we take those next steps. We just bought those engines, but in two years, we have our next set coming up. Are we going to move to these in two years, probably not. How do we get closer,” Cefaloni said. “We want to be on the cutting edge, for sure, of technology. But we’re not going to be the guinea pigs, for sure, especially not at that cost.”
Rosenbauer America distributor Doug Feldman said he did not have access to a cost-benefit analysis for fire departments considering the electric apparatus’ purchase.
“There are two-thirds the number of parts on this (Rosenbauer) truck than on that (Central Fire District) truck,” Feldman said, gesturing. “So, what most departments are realizing is that their maintenance will be cut at least in half and they spend between $50,000 and $75,000 a year keeping those in service. Not new ones, but older ones, they’re very expensive to keep in service. You can imagine, when you remove two-thirds of the components that break.”
Rosenbauer has partnered with Volvo Penta to bring the trucks to market. In the meantime, Los Angeles Fire Department and agencies in Berlin, Amsterdam and Dubai have committed to purchasing completed models, Rosenbauer representatives said Monday.
The protoype Concept Fire Truck houses a 500-gallon water pump capable of delivering 1,000-gallons-per-minute and tank on board, rescue with hydraulic recovery equipment in the equipment compartments, special equipment storage and an “e-crawler” remote-controlled bot, useful in cases with hazardous materials or potential explosives.
The one-piece, rather than segmented, vehicle has a tight turn radius and reaches speeds of at least 65 mph. Its appearance is more familiar in Europe, echoing emergency mobile command buses more than traditional American fire apparatus.
Though exempt from the harshest of environmental regulations, California fire agencies are seeking new ways to reduce their agencies’ carbon emissions, Cefaloni said. For example, he said, the jointly-managed fire districts’ newest fire engines have idle-reduction technology, which turns off the vehicles’ big motor and leaves a small generator motor running on-scene power for most incidents. Along a similar vein, the Concept Fire Truck includes a diesel-powered “range extender” to supply power for extended on-site water pumping, Rosenbauer demonstrators said Monday.
“It’s always going to behoove us to stay on top of technology, whether it’s apparatus or breathing equipment or turnouts or whatever we use, trying to stay on top technology and advancement,” Cefaloni said. “This just happens to be the newest, highest thing coming out.”
©2019 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.