This Electric Fire Truck Is What the US Desperately Needs

Rosenbauer is designing fire trucks for cities instead of cities for fire trucks.

RT truck


It is a question we have been asking for years on Treehugger: Why are North American fire trucks so big? In Europe, where there are older cities with narrower roads, the fire trucks are sized to fit the city. In North America, it often seems that the cities are sized to fit the fire trucks.

But this has been changing, as cities introduce "vision zero" fire trucks, and now the leading manufacturer, Rosenbauer, has introduced the Revolutionary Technology (RT) apparatus that is not only svelte but electric.

"The Rosenbauer RT is the fire truck of the future," said John Slawson, CEO and President of Rosenbauer America in a press release. "Built from the ground up using the most advanced materials and technologies, the RT is the safest fire truck on the road today - for firefighters, for communities and for the environment."

In many cities, firefighters are responding to fires less than a third of the time—the rest are for medical, rescue, and car crashes. A smaller and more agile vehicle makes sense for these, but there are also real benefits to the electric drive:

"The RT's electric drive is not only extremely powerful but also noise emission-free. This greatly reduces the noise level at the scene of the emergency, making it easier for the crew to communicate, reducing stress and benefiting nearby residents. The electric drive train ensures that almost no fuel is combusted while driving. The lighting and auxiliary equipment chargers are also powered directly by the batteries. A local power grid can be created with up to 14 kW and can be operated simultaneously via the power outlet."
Turning radius


The weight of the batteries gives it a lower center of gravity. which along with the smaller size and four-wheel steering give it "unprecedented cornering stability and thus reduces the risk of accidents." The press release notes:

"Maneuverability is of the utmost importance for municipal emergency vehicles, especially in urban areas. With the RT, Rosenbauer engineers have pushed the limits of what is possible. No other vehicle with comparable extinguishing and transport capacities has such compact dimensions or an equally small turning radius."
Strongtown fire trucks


Charles Marohn of Strong Towns asked the same question we did in graphic form, and Rosenbauer has delivered the answer: a vehicle that's only 7'-8" wide and has electrically folding mirrors to go down narrow lanes. It even has optional "crab steering" where all four wheels can turn in the same direction so that it can travel diagonally.

Fire truck in lane


Another benefit of electric motors is the incredible torque, which lets them take off like a rocket: "The two electric motors with a total output of 360 kW (490 hp) and up to 50,000 Nm torque ensure unprecedented longitudinal dynamics for a fire truck. This enables rapid acceleration, especially in heavy city traffic."

Why Is This So Important?

RT in DC


A few years ago Treehugger covered the story of Celebration, Florida, designed around the principles of New Urbanism. Here, a new deputy chief of the fire department came in and demanded that the trees all get cut down and the parking removed because "the NFPA [National Fire Protection Association] says the road width must be 20 feet clear. There is no exception." Marohn has described how fire departments often fight attempts to install bike lanes or slow down cars, calling it the "tail wagging the dog when it comes to fire departments mandating urban design standards."

Now Rosenbauer has produced a vehicle that is smaller, more maneuverable, quieter, pollution-free, designed around the city it serves. Because of its increased acceleration and agility, the fire departments might actually want to buy it. As Slawson says, it's the fire truck of the future.