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Los Angeles Buys in to the Promise of the Electric Fire Truck

The city of Los Angeles will soon have an electric-powered fire truck in service out of its Hollywood station. The move is one of several that city officials are making to reduce their carbon emissions.

by / February 25, 2020
The Los Angeles Fire Department will acquire the nation's first electric fire truck. Courtsey Photo/ Los Angeles Fire Department

Los Angeles plans to introduce the first electric-powered fire truck in North America, opening the door to electrifying yet another segment of the transportation ecosystem.

The Los Angeles Fire Department will receive the new truck, manufactured by Austrian truck company Rosenbauer, next year. It will be based out of the Hollywood station.

“We believe it’s a good fit there. We have the brush threat. We have narrow roads, tight roads, with all of the congestion. The Rosenbauer has a very tight turning radius,” Los Angeles Fire Chief Ralph M. Terrazas said in a video statement.

The truck will be equipped with two batteries capable of powering it for two hours in its fully electric operation, with an onboard diesel engine able to provide backup power.

It’s not just fire trucks making the move to electric power. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation will purchase 155 electric transit vehicles, with plans for an entirely zero emission fleet by 2028. Meanwhile, Los Angeles Sanitation and Environment (LASAN) has plans to transition its garbage truck fleet to EVs by 2035.

“The city’s showing a ton of leadership,” said Dr. Jimmy O’Dea, senior vehicles analyst with the Union of Concerned Scientists in Oakland, Calif.

The announcement by the fire department is “very important from a technology signal standpoint,” said O’Dea. “Here we’re talking about emergency vehicles that are ready for electrification.”

Part of the role of public-sector agencies is to take the lead on innovation to help move the whole industry along, said Adrian Martinez, a staff attorney for Earthjustice, a nonprofit environmental law organization, based in San Francisco.

“They help create markets,” Martinez said of the moves by LAFD and LADOT. “They also help you figure out how do you operate these vehicles in various applications. Because of their public nature, there’s not a proprietary motive. So information around charging and things like that would be readily transferred to other cities, as well as private fleets and other entities. They play a huge role in advancing this technology.”

And repeatedly, California has shown a willingness to lead in areas like the electric vehicle deployment and adoption, Martinez added. “We hope other cities and entities take the lead, and also work with California. But California is putting a lot of effort into it.”

The California Public Utilities Commission has already approved $700 million in infrastructure investments aimed at the three major investor-owned utilities in the state to help build out fleet charging infrastructure.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is currently involved with drafting new rules to phase in requirements to transition heavy-duty freight-carrying trucks to zero emission vehicles. A recommendation by the group Electric Trucks Now would strengthen the rule to require at least 15 percent of trucks traveling California roads be zero emission by 2030. CARB is expected to finalize its decision by May of this year. 

Heavy duty commercial vehicles are generally thought of as those weighing more than 8,500 pounds, which includes about 10 percent of highway vehicles. These, however, contribute 28 percent of the transportation sector’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“They’re definitely doing more than their fair share, because these vehicles are generally traveling a lot more miles per year than personal vehicles, and have a lot lower fuel economies per mile and their emissions are a lot higher. So there’s a lot of bang for your buck — for our buck — in addressing emissions from this sector,” said O’Dea.

“Heavy-duty vehicles comprise a small fraction of the vehicles on the road, but disproportionately contribute to emissions,” he added. 

Skip Descant Staff Writer

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Sacramento.

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