Pantex Fire Department goes green
Fire departments are usually known for their bright red engines, but the Pantex Fire Department has recently gone green. They traded their gasoline power tools and portable power sources for battery-operated alternatives.
“Things change, and in our profession it is important to adapt,” said Scott Johnson, Pantex Fire Department battalion chief. “We are always looking for different ways to improve that are environmentally friendly, ergonomic, and economic.”
Battery-operated rescue extrication equipment, lights, and cutting saws are underutilized in the fire service, but are gaining popularity. They were once hard to find and more expensive, but now are becoming more compatible and available. The Pantex Fire Department is proud to be part of the growing number of departments using battery-operated power sources for firefighting tools and equipment.
The new tools are more sustainable because they do not rely on the use of fossil fuels. With fewer parts to maintain like exhaust ports, carburetors, air filters, mufflers, and spark plugs, they require less maintenance and are more dependable. They help to prevent firefighters from inhaling harmful vapors and carbon emissions produced while the equipment runs, as well as the off gassing of fuel vapors from the equipment being stored in closed compartments on the fire apparatus. The tools also eliminate the fuel waste that could result from improperly mixing gas and oil.
“If given the choice now, I wouldn’t go back to gas-powered tools,” said Jeremy Baker, Pantex Fire Department captain. “These need way less maintenance and are performing just as well.”
Pantex Fire Department personnel evaluated the tools in a training session with the vendor and found that their faster deployment allows them to work more efficiently. The battery-operated tools are lighter and also provide an increased level of safety. Once the operator removes their finger from the tool’s trigger, the machine turns off, instead of idling like their gas-powered counterparts. This reduces noise that may impact a firefighter’s hearing.
Pantex firefighters weighed the pros and cons of gas-powered and battery-operated tools. Refilling gas-powered equipment is often messy and can easily lead to fuel spills that could contaminate a firefighter’s personal protective equipment or the environment. Other risks include oil evaporating into the air as a volatile organic compound that could lead to a potential health risk for firefighters.
Although the benefits of battery-powered tools were clear, and they are certainly the environmentally friendly option, they do come with their own unique challenges. Batteries do not last forever, so charging them in the field can be difficult. Batteries are often heavy; it is unrealistic to assume that operators will carry the backup batteries with them. If the tool battery dies, firefighters may have to return to the truck to replace the battery prior to finishing the task.
“I’m old school, so we didn’t have anything very environmentally-friendly,” said Robert Napp, assistant chief for operations. “These zero-emission tools are a drastic change from what I’m used to, and it’s cool to see how much things have changed.”
New tool designs and more robust battery lifespans have allowed the Pantex Fire Department firefighters an opportunity to do their part to help reduce the effects of greenhouse gases and other pollutants into the environment, while keeping the safety and ergonomics of firefighters in mind.