Fire departments around the world are seeking quieter, cleaner and greener vehicles, and Pierce Manufacturing is ready to deliver its first electric truck designed for the fire and emergency market.
Pierce, a subsidiary of Oshkosh Corporation based in Appleton, Wisconsin, developed the Volterra fire truck in response to worldwide efforts to establish green initiatives that reduce carbon emissions, minimize fuel consumption and produce less noise.
“We designed our electric vehicles around Oshkosh proprietary and patented technology,” says Jim Johnson, Oshkosh Corporation executive vice president and president of fire and emergency. “They will provide the environmental benefits fire departments request, without having to compromise on operational performance, functionality, safety attributes, customization, and the traditional configurations or styling customers expect from our fire apparatus.”
The City of Madison Fire Department deployed North America’s first electric firefighting vehicle in May. As the capital of Wisconsin, the 14-station department serves nearly 260,000 people spread over 100 square miles. The department assigned the new truck to Station 8, the city’s busiest fire station, which responds to 15 to 20 calls every day.
Located on the east side near thousands of single-family and multi-unit homes, major retail and office space, and two interstate highways, the station is also near several light manufacturing facilities and the Dane County Regional Airport.
Built on a 42,000-pound Pierce Enforcer custom chassis, the Volterra offers seating for six people and includes a 500-gallon water tank with a single-stage pump capable of dispensing 1,500 gallons per minute. The truck can accommodate ladders in 150 cubic feet of storage space as well as 1,000 feet of 5-inch hose plus 850 feet of 2.5-inch hose.
A 155-kilowatt-hour battery pack powers the truck, which uses an Oshkosh-patented parallel-electric drivetrain featuring an electro-mechanical, infinitely variable transmission. The design allows zero-emissions operation when powered by the integrated onboard batteries. The truck also couples to an internal combustion engine to provide continuous, uninterrupted power to the pumping system or drive system, a press release explains.
Shifting All-green Fleets
The Volterra fits well with the Madison Fire Department’s plan to convert its entire fleet of vehicles to green technology by 2030, says Fire Chief Steven Davis.
In fact, because of the city’s commitment to embrace electric vehicles, Pierce invited Madison firefighters to work with company engineers to design the Volterra prototype. “Pierce engineers reviewed a lot of our data and spoke with many of our firefighters before building Volterra,” he says.
The vehicle had to withstand working around the clock in many weather conditions, including rain, snow, and frigid temperatures falling below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pierce set up the Volterra to run on a 24-hour cycle. Departments can fully recharge its batteries from 0% to 100% in as little as 90 minutes, Davis explains. Based on the department’s call volume, the truck can travel 40 miles on a single charge. During its first day of use, firefighters took the truck to 12 calls and the batteries never dropped below 74%.
“Because we plug the truck into a charger immediately upon its return to the station, batteries never dip below 50% capacity,” he says. “However, if we get into a bind, the pump’s diesel engine automatically switches to operate the vehicle.”
An on-board diesel engine drives a water pump, which works independently of the truck’s battery system. Battery power delivers the truck to a scene, but a diesel engine delivers water to fight a fire.
Operating the vehicle requires no special training. Any driver can hop behind the wheel and press a button to start the truck. An onboard device continuously monitor’s battery levels and as soon as it falls below a specified threshold, the diesel operation automatically kicks in. The driver is unaware of any change.
“Unless there is a major fire, the Volterra can go weeks without consuming any diesel fuel,” says Davis. “For many communities, like Madison, reducing carbon footprint is a major benefit. Volterra does that without a doubt.”
Depending upon frequency and length of equipment use, Volterra’s batteries have an expected life cycle of approximately 14 years. “We are supplying Pierce with a lot of data about the battery,” Davis says. “As battery technology improves, we expect they will become even lighter weight and last longer.”
The Future of Fire Protection
Pierce Manufacturing owns the Volterra unit, which is on loan to the Madison Fire Department for two years. During that time, the city supplies vehicle performance data to Pierce every week, Davis explains. However, after the test period ends, the department can purchase the truck outright.
The chief suspects Pierce is 1 1/2 years away from offering Volterra as an option on all firefighting vehicles.
“Electric vehicles are the future of fire services,” says Davis. “Many communities of Madison’s size have goals to establish green fleets within the next decade. The challenge will be to get city councils to fund the equipment.
“Cities are not just looking at converting fire engines to green technology,” he adds. “They also are looking at all-electric police cars, garbage trucks, ambulances and road service equipment.”
Despite Madison’s propensity for freezing weather, the chief doesn’t expect there will be any issues that could impact Volterra’s ability to respond during winter months.
“I know Pierce did a lot of testing on the unit before delivering it to us,” he says. “It had 4,000 miles on the odometer when it arrived in Madison, and Appleton is only 100 miles away. So, I know Volterra drove it through a lot of different environments before we received it.”
He adds, “Not only do I think this vehicle will work well to meet our needs, but I also think it will be a game changer for fire services everywhere.”
New Airport Protection
Besides the Volterra pumper, Oshkosh will soon deliver the Striker, a hybrid aircraft rescue and fire fighting vehicle to several airports across America.
The three-axle all-wheel-drive vehicle with independent suspension features a significant amount of storage capability, including a:
- 50-foot Snozzle high-reach expendable turret
- 3,170-gallon water tank
- 444-gallon foam tank
- 550-pound dry chemical powder system
- 2,000-gallon-per-minute water pump
The truck is available on a 4x4 or 6x6 vehicle configuration with a modular cab design that can seat five firefighters. It can deliver 28% faster acceleration with zero emissions for one hour of idling time, a release noted. The Environmental Protection Agency and European Union will certify the vehicle for highway and off-road use.
“Our Volterra platform of electric vehicles reduces emissions, supports lowering total cost of ownership, and increases performance for first responders,” says Johnson. “We look forward to introducing the vehicles to fire departments around the world and will closely monitor operator feedback and opportunities for further vehicle enhancements.”