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N.M. fire department to purchase first electric fire engine

Bernalillo County Fire and Rescue is buying a Pierce Volterra fire engine with a state environment grant


Pierce Manufacturing Inc.

By Cathy Cook
Albuquerque Journal

BERNALILLO COUNTY, N.M. — Bernalillo County Fire and Rescue could be the first to use an electric hybrid firetruck in New Mexico. The county is set to purchase a hybrid electric and diesel firetruck with a $417,718 grant from the New Mexico Environment Department.

“Our main goal is to purchase an engine that allows us to perform as efficiently and safely as we do today while also being mindful of our role in protecting our environment,” Fire Chief Greg Perez said.

The new Pierce Volterra truck will cost $2.1 million and replace a 1991 Pierce Dash fire engine. The county will pay for the remainder of the cost from revenue from its public safety tax.

The firetruck should be in operation about a year from when it’s ordered, said Bernalillo County Fire and Rescue spokesman William Harris, which is actually quick for a firetruck. Firetrucks are typically made-to-order or purchased used. There is also a backlog on firetruck orders, Harris said, so conventional firetrucks are taking two to four years from order to operation.

Over the lifetime of the new truck, the switch should offset 20,370 gallons of diesel fuel, a New Mexico Environment Department news release states. Firetrucks are supposed to operate as frontline vehicles for seven to 10 years, then can be used as reserve vehicles, Harris said.

Maintenance costs should be similar to existing firetrucks, but the county should save significant money on diesel fuel, Harris said. The electric batteries are expensive to replace but are estimated to last 10 years.

The new firetruck will be able to run on electric battery power alone, but also has a diesel engine that will automatically turn on if battery power is low — which may be necessary if the truck is pumping water for an extended period of time, according to Harris.

Running the water pump takes more power than regular driving, according to Harris. Roughly 90% of Bernalillo County Fire and Rescue calls are for emergency medical services, not to respond to fires, Harris said.

“On those normal calls, we can run off our electric power to the calls with zero emissions, and as soon as the battery is depleted, it seamlessly goes and starts the diesel engine that’s in the front,” Harris said.

While Bernalillo County would be the first in New Mexico to make the switch to an electric firetruck, a fire department in Gilbert, Arizona, owns the same type of firetruck, and fire stations in Oregon, Colorado and Texas are using electric firetrucks.

What are the health benefits of reducing diesel emissions?

Diesel exhaust can lead to health conditions like asthma and respiratory illnesses, and it can worsen existing heart and lung disease, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Diesel engine emissions also contribute to producing ground-level ozone, which can damage trees and crops, according to the EPA .

Diesel exhaust is likely a carcinogen, and studies found that long-term exposure to the exhaust can cause lung cancer in lab animals, according to the American Cancer Society.

“We’re always worried about cancer in the fire service, and I think it’s going to be a really good benefit for our department,” Harris said.

Firefighters are at a greater risk of cancer, with a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general population, according to the Firefighters Cancer Support Network. Firefighters are exposed on the job to carcinogens such as synthetic materials and plastics burning in buildings.

Where will the fire engines go?

The new engine will be at Station 36 in the North Valley, located at 6810 Edith NE. Station 36 is one of the oldest fire stations run by the county and even still has a fire pole in the building, Harris said. But the fire station will be rebuilt and should be a fully electric fire station, drawing most of its power from solar panels.

The old engine will be used as a backup vehicle in case any fire engines need to be repaired or stations need extra engines to respond to a large emergency.

The new truck should be similar to drive and have similar firefighting capabilities as the county’s existing firetrucks.

“You’re just going to have to plug it in when you get back from a call,” Harris said.

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