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Friday, June 9, 2023
June 9, 2023

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Redmond hopes to be ‘industry leader’ with new electric fire engine


SEATTLE — Redmond residents shouldn’t see much of a change when a new fire engine arrives in the Eastside city in a few years. The vehicle will still be fire-engine red, respond from the department’s Station 12 and blare its sirens for calls in southern Redmond neighborhoods.

Up close, they’ll be able to hear one key difference: The electric fire engine will be far quieter than the noise and vibrations that emit from a standard fire engine running on diesel.

But city officials are most excited about the unseen and unheard change. This new fire engine has zero emissions and will be the first of its kind in Washington and among the first throughout the U.S.

The Redmond City Council accepted a grant earlier this month from the Washington State Department of Ecology to buy a Pierce Volterra electric fire engine that will be ready in about two years. The grant covers about a fourth of the $2.3 million in costs for the vehicle and charging infrastructure.

The purchase falls under Redmond’s overall climate strategy, which includes a goal of carbon neutrality for city operations by 2030 and community-wide carbon neutrality by 2050.

“We want to be an industry leader in purchasing electric vehicles,” Redmond Fire Chief Adrian Sheppard said. “We hope that this spurs a lot of confidence in people.”

The ecology department’s grant program made $5 million available to replace diesel fire apparatuses with new electric ones. The grant is from a partnership between the Washington State Diesel Program and Volkswagen Settlement Grant Program, provided as part of a massive settlement from Volkswagen following allegations that the company violated the Clean Air Act.

The Seattle and Bellevue fire departments also submitted applications and are in the process of having their grant agreements completed, according to Molly Spiller, the Department of Ecology’s Volkswagen unit supervisor.

Spiller said fire vehicles are a logical choice for a zero-emission strategy. They can be in use for decades and take frequent trips, with lots of idling. An idling vehicle can contribute to a buildup of pollutants like carbon monoxide in fire stations, increasing the health risks for firefighters and other emergency workers.

The Volterra engine is built to order by Pierce Manufacturing, a Wisconsin-based company that boasts having built the first electric fire truck in service in North America. Sheppard and other city officials visited Madison, Wisconsin, which started using an electric engine last year to see what it was like, and said he felt confident that Redmond would also benefit from replacing its rig.

“All outward appearances looked exactly the same, and it would be very minimal in terms of what we would have to adjust to, of placement of tools and equipment,” he said.

Other cities including Los Angeles and Portland have added or plan to add electric fire trucks to their fleets.

Redmond will add a charging station to Station 12, which serves the city’s Overlake, Viewpoint, Grass Lawn and Rose Hill neighborhoods. A full charge takes about 90 minutes, according to Pierce Manufacturing, and the vehicle also has a backup diesel engine.

Spiller pointed to the movement toward electric school buses and how more and more aging buses are being replaced by electric models. The same could happen for emergency fleets, she said.

“We are really excited to see the momentum building,” she said.