Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical welcoming one new truck this spring and two new hybrid electric models next year

photo by: Pierce Manufacturing

The state of the build process for LDFM"S newest quint fire apparatus on Feb. 9, 2024.

Patience and fire trucks don’t exactly go hand-in-hand — when you need one, you are not too excited about waiting for one.

But Lawrence indeed has been waiting about three years for its newest fire truck — or apparatus, which is the term fire fighters use for their big equipment — to be built and arrive in the city.

This spring, though, Lawrence’s wait for its newest addition to its fleet is expected to end. Leaders with Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical will be traveling next month to Wisconsin to finalize a spring delivery date for a $1.3 million “quint,” which is a type of apparatus that is a combination of a traditional fire engine that pumps and sprays water and a ladder truck that comes equipped with a long, mechanical ladder that can extend more than 100 feet into the air.

LDCFM Chief Rich Llewellyn definitely is excited about the pending arrival of the new quint, which was ordered from Pierce Manufacturing in 2021. His department already is planning a “push-in” ceremony that will serve as a unique way for the public to get up close and personal with the new addition. The ceremony dates back to the days when pieces of firefighting equipment were pulled by horses.

photo by: LDCFM

The LDCFM apparatus team at the Pierce factory. Chief Rich Llewellyn is pictured in the center.

“When they’re hitched together in a team, horses don’t have a great ability to operate in reverse,” Llewellyn noted in a recent interview with the Journal-World. “When apparatus would return from an incident, the team would be unhitched and firefighters would push the apparatus back into the station and community members often assisted with this process.”

So, Lawrence residents, look forward to the modern version of that ceremony at a date to be determined this spring.

Then, get ready for a new chapter in Lawrence fire fighting history.

The city already has ordered its next two pieces of firefighting apparatus — and both of them will be electric hybrid vehicles. Yes, electric vehicles are a trend that go well-beyond the family sedan.

“The fire industry is becoming more environmentally conscious in an effort to meet municipal sustainability goals,” Andrea Meyers, a spokeswoman with Pierce Manufacturing told the Journal-World via email. “There’s a growing interest in fire apparatus powered by alternative fuels, such as electric or hybrid engines, which reduce emissions and operating costs.”

photo by: LDCFM

LDCFM Engineers Mike Hochard, left, and Sam Goodwin, center, speak with a representative of Pierce Manufacturing while looking at the diesel engine and transmission of Madison Wisconsin Fire Department’s diesel-electric hybrid.

Environmental factors certainly are a big part of Lawrence’s decision to add the electric-hybrid fire apparatuses to their fleet for the first time. The hybrid vehicle — which will have a diesel engine for backup purposes — will emit a lot fewer emissions than a vehicle that is powered solely by a diesel engine. Those reduced emissions will be good for issues like battling climate change, but Llewellyn is reminding everyone that they’ll also be good for the health of the firefighters. Diesel fumes are a known carcinogen, and firefighters are exposed to a lot of fumes currently.

“Cancer is a leading cause of death amongst firefighters and it’s our goal to reduce our employees’ exposure to known or suspected carcinogens to the greatest extent possible,” Llewellyn said.

Since 2011, Llewellyn said he has had five colleagues who were either still active or had just retired, die from cancers that were either confirmed or likely to be work-related.

“That’s about one cancer death every 2 1/2 years among my peer group and it’s a trend that I don’t want to continue,” Llewellyn said.

Another benefit of the electric hybrid vehicle is that Lawrence won’t have to wait as long to get their new pieces of equipment.

“The build time on these new engines is approximately 14 months from order to delivery,” Llewellyn said.

photo by: Pierce Manufacturing

A ladder waiting to be installed on top of LDCFM’s newest quint fire apparatus in February 2024 at Pierce Manufacturing, Appleton, Wisconsin.

That’s a big difference from the approximately three years Lawrence has been waiting for its quint. However, the hybrid vehicles — their brand name is Volterra, and also are made by Pierce Manufacturing — are a slightly different type of apparatus than the soon-to-arrive quint. The hybrid vehicles are classified as fire engines, which means they do not have the 107-foot ladder that will sit atop the new quint when it arrives.

How they will operate, of course, also will be different. All of the truck’s functions are designed to operate off of battery power, though the diesel engine can be activated if the batteries start to run low. Llewellyn thinks the new hybrids will mainly be operating off of battery power, based off what he’s seen from other departments that have the hybrid vehicles.

“We anticipate that most of our responses will be made using the electric drive. Experience from other agencies indicates that the diesel engines will be operated during routine maintenance checks and during extended operations when charging isn’t available, such as a long-duration fire incident,” Llewellyn said.

Servicing the vehicles also will be an adjustment for the city. The diesel engine components of the trucks can be serviced by the city’s mechanics, but the electric engine components will need to be serviced by a Pierce Manufacturing mechanic.

City officials are expected to learn a lot about the operational costs of the vehicles once they arrive next year. Diesel fuel bills, for example, are expected to be much less for the hybrid vehicles, but how much less will depend on how often the diesel engine has to be activated. They’ll also learn about issues such as charging time, which has been a point of concern among some owners of electric passenger cars. Pierce Manufacturing, on its website, said the charging system for Volterras is quick.

“Established nationwide energy experts offer simple, fast charging solutions capable of full electric fire truck recharge in less than 90 minutes,” according to the company’s website.

As for the purchase price of the hybrid vehicles, they are more expensive than traditional, diesel-only apparatus.

photo by: Pierce Manufacturing

The new apparatus will have LDCFM’s new colors and will be branded to reflect that LDCFM services both the City of Lawrence and Douglas County.

The Lawrence City Commission approved the purchase of the new hybrid Volterras in December for $3,960,000 — or about $1.98 million apiece — while the combustion engine ordered in 2021 cost $1,308,071, according to city records. However, the comparison is imprecise given the amount of time between the two purchases, and also the fact the hybrid vehicles don’t come with the large mechanical ladders.

Whether there will be a day when Lawrence’s entire fleet is made up of all hybrid vehicles — or maybe even electric-only vehicles — is unknown. If so, it is likely years down the line. New fire apparatuses are expected to last about 15 years before the city trades them in. That means there are multiple diesel vehicles in the city’s fire fleet that still have many years left, of course, including the new quint that should soon arrive.

That new quint will take the place of Quint 3, which is 11 years old. That quint will then serve as a backup apparatus for another few years and one of the current two 15-year-old backups will be removed from service, Llewellyn said. The old quint will be traded in as part of the purchase.

The new quint will be located at Fire Station No. 3, 3708 W. Sixth Street.

photo by: Pierce Manufacturing

A timeline of the build process for LDCFM’s new quint fire apparatus. From left to right beginning on Dec. 1, 2023, with weekly updates through Feb. 9, 2024.


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