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Published on December 1st, 2008 | by Alex Felsinger

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Fire Departments Turn to Solar to Stop Idling Engines

The fire department in Shawnee, PA decided in July to experiment with solar panels atop one of their trucks, hoping the few panels would produce enough juice to power the many tools that otherwise are often powered by an idling engine. Months later, the firefighters report success.

The department in San Rafael, CA also successfully installed similar panels in March, but the trend has been slow to catch on elsewhere. Typically, engines are equipped with heavy-duty batteries that charge when the engine is running, but for long-term operations or busy days, the engine must stay idling in order to keep the battery charged.[social_buttons]

In the past, emergency lighting drained the batteries quickly, but most trucks are now equipped with LED lighting, greatly limiting their power drain. However, modern tools such as laptops, portable radio chargers, mobile data terminals, thermal imaging cameras, and GPS have increased the need for power.

“This engine’s really busy,” San Rafael Division Chief Ritt Hewitt said. “They’re in the middle of our city. They’re just busy. They don’t have an opportunity to stay in the station and get plugged in.”

The engines may still need to idle on cold winter days in order to prevent the water hoses from freezing, but eventually the solar technology could eliminate this need as well.

Equipping a fire engine with solar can cost anywhere from $500 to $900, but of course, eventually they will cover their own cost by cutting fuel consumption and increasing battery life. The Shawnee department expect to recoup their investment within six months.

Photo Credit: Preciouskhyatt on Flickr under Creative Commons license.


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About the Author

is primarily concerned with animal welfare, wildlife conservation, and environmental justice. As a freelance writer in San Francisco, he leads a deliberately simplistic and thrifty lifestyle, yet still can’t help gawking at the newest green gadgets and zero-emission concept cars.



  • Feedback Secrets

    I am wondering how much of the surface area of the top of a fire truck can be outfitted with solar paneling. If most of the roof can be covered then that would be quite large area.

  • Feedback Secrets

    I am wondering how much of the surface area of the top of a fire truck can be outfitted with solar paneling. If most of the roof can be covered then that would be quite large area.

  • Clark

    It is inspiring to see symbols of the community like the fire department pursuing green alternatives. I think it is particularly important for us, as consumers, to support ‘green’ business. For example, http://www.simplestop.net stops your postal junk mail and benefits the environment.

  • Clark

    It is inspiring to see symbols of the community like the fire department pursuing green alternatives. I think it is particularly important for us, as consumers, to support ‘green’ business. For example, http://www.simplestop.net stops your postal junk mail and benefits the environment.

  • http://globalpatriot.com Global Patriot

    Encouraging to see what can happen with individuals come up with creative green solutions. It’s not just about finding big answers, but also about finding thousands of small answers.

  • http://globalpatriot.com Global Patriot

    Encouraging to see what can happen with individuals come up with creative green solutions. It’s not just about finding big answers, but also about finding thousands of small answers.

  • http://globalpatriot.com Global Patriot

    Encouraging to see what can happen with individuals come up with creative green solutions. It’s not just about finding big answers, but also about finding thousands of small answers.

  • http://www.pureenergysolar.net/ Vanessa, Pure Energy Solar

    This is such a good cover on different ways of making a difference with solar. Glad to see that they expect to recoup their investment within months and get more power from within place that wasn’t doing anything before.

  • http://www.pureenergysolar.net/ Vanessa, Pure Energy Solar

    This is such a good cover on different ways of making a difference with solar. Glad to see that they expect to recoup their investment within months and get more power from within place that wasn’t doing anything before.

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