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Sunflower Horizons

Firefighters, medics save energy, thousands of dollars during friendly competition

October 31, 2011

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Turning off lights, computer monitors and treadmills helped Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical trim more than $1,500 from their electric bills during a recent four-month period.

Such efficiency-minded efforts helped all stations reduce their energy use by an average of 10 percent during the “Energy Smackdown,” a lighthearted but very real competition among stations from June through September.

Station No. 2, 2128 Harper, ended up winning with an overall savings of 20 percent — something the station’s 23 firefighters, paramedics and EMTs achieved by making smart choices and some occasional sacrifices, Capt. Pat Karlin said.

Plugging equipment and appliances into energy-saving power strips is relatively simple and easy, he said. Going without air conditioning in the physical training room during hot weather — not all that comfortable, but certainly tolerable when heading to a shower afterward — is quite another.

Some guys half-jokingly considered cutting all power to the station, so that the place would run on its emergency backup generators powered by natural gas, and therefore be considered off the grid for the contest’s purposes.

“We did not do that, but there were some creative ways to find a way to make sure we were pulling ahead,” Karlin said. “Now we’re trying to make sure we keep up with those good habits.”

The department entered into the “Energy Smackdown” as the city battled against Manhattan in the “Take Charge Challenge,” a competition to help spark energy-conservation efforts. Manhattan ultimately won that contest.

But during the four-month period, Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical saved 41,720 kilowatt hours of electricity, officials said. That would be enough to run 43 houses for a month, and would be equal to avoiding carbon dioxide emissions from the burning of 3,225 gallons of gasoline.

Such positive effects can come from simply turning off lights when leaving a room, switching off TVs when they’re not being watched and setting thermostats up two degrees from their previous settings — say, 74 degrees instead of 72 — during summer, officials said.

Fire and medical personnel may have known this going into the contest, but actually entering the “Energy Smackdown” certainly didn’t hurt.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot of arm twisting to get us competing,” said Karlin, whose station battles against other stations in everything from running 5K races to raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. “And it’s significant savings. We’re talking thousands of dollars.”

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