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Boulder, Colorado, Buys First Electric Fire Engine

Here at CleanTechnica, we cover electric buses a lot. The stories generally aren’t that interesting, largely because we’re covering the buses themselves, and not the occupants. In some cities, you’re practically guaranteed to never be bored on a bus (and that may or may not be a good thing). That having been said, the buses themselves are probably the best vehicles that a city can swap out for electric, as they travel predictable routes, don’t usually go highway speeds, and get a lot of good out of regenerative braking due to the stop-and-go nature of the job.

But, buses are far from the only vehicles that are like this in a city’s fleet. If you think about it, they could all benefit from going electric. Police vehicles spend a lot of time driving on surface streets, spend a lot of time idling, and chases are pretty rare due to safe pursuit laws. Fire engines also spend a lot of time sitting between calls, and fire stations are already spread out to keep response times low. Almost every other city vehicle has a similar story to tell.

So, it should be no surprise that some of these other vehicles are getting replaced with EVs, and the latest such story comes from Boulder, Colorado. The Boulder Fire-Rescue team has acquired a Rosenbauer RTX fire engine, which is the first electric vehicle of its kind in the state of Colorado.

The newly acquired Rosenbauer RTX fire engine comes equipped with advanced features that prioritize the well-being of firefighters, the community, and the environment. As a Range Extended Electric Vehicle (REEV), the RTX utilizes an all-electric drivetrain and pump in conjunction with a diesel energy backup system. By adopting this innovative technology, the City of Boulder can effectively combat fires while prioritizing air quality and minimizing climate-altering emissions.

“This is a tremendous step forward for our community and yet another example of Boulder’s leadership in addressing climate change,” said City Manager Nuria Rivera-Vandermyde. “We’re proud to be an early adopter of new technology that makes emergency response both safer and environmentally friendly. The collaboration among departments — Fire-Rescue, Fleet & Facilities, and Climate Initiatives — has been exceptional and is an example of how we can address today’s challenges when we work together.”

The acquisition of the Rosenbauer RTX fire engine is a testament to the larger movement towards electrification, which extends beyond personal vehicles to encompass bigger and more robust equipment, such as emergency vehicles that necessitate steadfast performance under tough circumstances.

The adoption of the electric engine by Boulder Fire-Rescue signifies the city’s commitment to combating climate change and promoting inclusivity in the fire department. The Rosenbauer RTX engine was specifically designed to enhance on-the-job safety for firefighters, with features such as an adjustable suspension that enables easy access to equipment and the cab, all-wheel drive and all-wheel steering for enhanced on-road handling, and an ergonomically optimized cab space. Additionally, the electric engine reduces exposure to harmful fumes and minimizes operational noise, thus promoting a healthier working environment.

“Boulder Fire-Rescue has been very intentional and thorough in the process of researching and developing a plan for this engine,” said Travis Richen, administrative battalion chief. “We’ve ensured that the equipment will be dependable and capable while also developing a better understanding about all the safety benefits the engine offers. This purchase gives us an amazing chance to shape the next generation of fire apparatus.”

Boulder expects the delivery of the RTX engine to take place sometime between late 2024 and early 2025, albeit with a likely variation in the timeline that will be determined as the build-out progresses. During this period, the fire department will work in close collaboration with Rosenbauer to ensure that the new engine satisfactorily meets the requirements of firefighters and the community at large. The estimated cost of the RTX engine is approximately $1.78 million. The department has gradually accumulated this amount in its budget over time and is sourced from the General Fund, primarily financed via sales and use tax collections.

“I care deeply about the safety and well-being of our firefighters, and I’m excited about the next steps we are taking to better support them, while also helping achieve several city goals,” said Boulder Fire-Rescue Chief Michael Calderazzo. “This option is a win-win.”

One Way This Engine Will Really Help

I’ve never worked in fire, but I’ve been around a few firehouses. One thing you’ll notice in most of them is that they have hoses that hook up to the tailpipes of the vehicles in the garage. That way, they can be on and idling as needed indoors without sickening the fire crew. When the vehicle pulls away, these special hoses release from the vehicle and retract without needing to be manually disconnected.

But, that isn’t a perfect solution. If the hose isn’t attached properly, it could leak. When the vehicle first goes into the bay and when it leaves, it still emits gases that can get stuck in the garage. When there isn’t enough of a breeze, an idling fire engine can just as easily sicken people if it sits for long enough. One exposure to these risks won’t kill anybody, but over a career, it could add up.

Obviously, an electric fire truck just isn’t going to emit anything. It can “idle” endlessly in any location no matter whether it’s indoors, outdoors, or at the scene of a fire or medical emergency with no wind, and never risk hurting anybody’s respiratory system. So, it’s an idea fit.

It’s a Start

It’s important to note that one fire engine might serve a small town, but we’re talking about a city with a population of over 100,000. This means that the city has at least a few more of these trucks still running on diesel, as well as other type of trucks in the fire fleet. So, it makes a lot of sense to keep going until the whole fleet is replaced.

But, we probably can’t expect the city to do this overnight. In fleets, vehicles are typically replaced when they reach a certain number of miles, where they’re about to become too undependable and/or expensive to keep any longer. So, this is a process that’s likely to take years.

Image provided by Rosenbauer.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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