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This Adorable Electric Fire Truck Is The Future We Need

Illustration for article titled This Adorable Electric Fire Truck Is The Future We Need
Photo: Rosenbauer
Truck YeahThe trucks are good!

Fire trucks are great candidates for electrification. They travel short distances, return to the same location after every trip, and unlike most heavy duty trucks often operate in residential neighborhoods where people probably don’t want diesel engines running for extended periods on their block.

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Which is why I, for one, am pretty psyched by this electric fire truck concept by Austrian fire truck manufacturer Rosenbauer that the Menlo Park, California Fire District is looking into.

First of all, the thing is adorable. It is far less aggressive-looking than the giant red engines we have now, but it also doesn’t look like a toy.

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But this is a fire truck, and looks don’t matter. I want the damn thing to do the job. And the early indications are, it can. From ABC’s Bay Area affiliate:

Chief Schapelhouman said Rosenbauer, an Austrian-based firefighting tech company, reached out three years ago.

He was initially skeptical, but trusted Menlo Park Fire District fleet mechanic, Rudy Torres’ recommendation.

“We sent our mechanic to Austria,” Schapelhouman said. “What really did it for me was when he came back and said we can do this.”

Torres found the $6 million all-electric engine required fewer moving parts, which ultimately meant less maintenance.

It would also eliminate demand for diesel, in turn keeping firefighters from cancer causing fumes.

To be sure, $6 million is a hefty price tag for one truck, but something tells me the home of Facebook with a median household income of $132,000 can afford it.

And why not? The thing is decked out, according to the Rosenbauer website. It’s got a built-in WiFi access point with remote control drone access system, adjustable height so the vehicle can be lowered for easier access to equipment, haptic feedback in the drivers seat, all-wheel drive, a low center of gravity for “excellent road holding,” and a modular interior design.

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Illustration for article titled This Adorable Electric Fire Truck Is The Future We Need
Photo: Rosenbauer

The Concept Fire Truck, or CFT has two electric motors, and the battery also powers the water pump. Rosenbauer does not specify a battery size but says it’s enough for 30 minutes of “electric vehicle operation” although that’s not clear how it breaks down between driving and on-site operation.

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The Menlo Park Fire Chief said most of their calls last fewer than 30 minutes so he’s not too concerned about power, but should a call unexpectedly last longer, the CFT has a backup diesel engine hooked to a generator that can power equipment and re-charge the batteries (think of it as a range extender). Even if the diesel engine is needed, it’s an “eco-efficient passenger car diesel engine,” much smaller one than the diesels typically used in fire trucks today.

That being said, this is just a concept, so who knows if and when it will start hitting streets—ABC7 said Chief Schapelhouman thinks if everything goes well it could be “as early as 2022"—and what that final design might feature.

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But Schapelhouman is game to work through any challenges that may arise. He made a great point to ABC7 that I don’t think is emphasized enough when it comes to EVs of all types. When asked about potential problems like the Tesla police car in Fremont that ran out of juice, he replied:

“I think you’ve got to be able to fail sometimes too to say, ‘How does that never happen again,’” Chief Schapelhouman said. “Because, if you think that doesn’t happen to motorized equipment — we have engines down on a regular basis for a variety of reasons too.”

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He’s right! When we see a car with the hood up on the side of the road, we don’t think “I don’t know if we can rely on these internal combustion engines.” We’re past that, and we accept all kinds of failures and problems from ICE cars that would be utter scandal if EVs had them today.

I like Schapelhouman’s attitude, and I’d love to see more of it when it comes to making EVs happen.

Former Senior Reporter, Investigations & Technology, Jalopnik

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DISCUSSION

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While this might be a good option for small-scale fires such as someone’s chicken coop lighting on fire, I don’t see this making any inroads into anything more rural than a somewhat dense suburban area.

There’s a lot of factors to be considered when working with a fire truck. There are a lot of power-hungry units. The pump itself is usually powered by a PTO system, and while an electric pump might eliminate some of the power issues, I don’t see it taking care of the critical issue, the fact that you’re going to have to put hundreds of PSI down possibly hundreds of feet of hose while accepting a feed from a tanker. Not only that, but in these rural areas, there are often complex mutual aid agreements set up for fire departments because oftentimes these volunteer firefighters only show up in small amounts. You might get an engine, you might get a tanker, but at least you’ll get something - but it might be coming from the next town over and they’re 25 minutes out. How long can an electric-only fire truck go on just battery power? What happens when a large fire hits? It’s going to be hard to pass up the hours of longevity that a diesel-powered truck can provide, especially in rural environments.

Speaking of rural environments, the biggest thing is: How long does it take for the unit to be put back into service? You’re going to need to have the battery power to operate the pump long enough to fill the tank, especially when working with dry hydrants. You’re going to need to charge up the truck when you get back to the station. How long does it take for the truck to get an operational charge in that situation?

I don’t see the electrification of public service vehicles stretching further than hybrid solutions.