A Quick Response for the Environment

With fuel efficiency legislation before the General Assembly this short session - the Clean Cars Study bill and the Energy Efficient State Motor Vehicle Fleets bill – now is the time for local governments to commit to cleaner vehicle fleets.

Emergency response vehicles are among the most fuel inefficient of public vehicles. By necessity, the vehicular behavior of EMS vehicles is not very green: prolonged idling, quick starts and stops, rapid acceleration, etc. EMS vehicles should not be left out of the current green fleet initiative.

An upcoming issue (July) of the Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS) will feature an article by Seth Hawkins, MD, entitled “The Green Machine: Development of a High-Efficiency, Low-Pollution, EMS Response Vehicle” which outlines a study by EMS Burke County, NC, that tested the performance of a hybrid vehicle in EMS operations.

For the study, Burke County EMS used a Ford Escape Hybrid, which is powered by both a combustion engine and an electric engine that are able to run separately or simultaneously. Electric motors are especially efficient in stop-and-go traffic situations since they recover lost heat energy from braking to recharge the car batteries (typically, hybrids have two batteries). Also, electric motors are more efficient than their combustion counterparts at producing torque at low rpm’s, which grant hybrid SUV’s faster acceleration. These reasons among others make hybrid vehicles well suited for EMS needs.

After using the Ford Escape Hybrid as a quick response EMS vehicle for two years, Burke County EMS found the vehicle to perform “without difficulty.” Furthermore, the hybrid was 10% less expensive to purchase, used 50% less gas, and emitted about 50% less greenhouse gasses. Comparatively, hybrid technology provided more power for EMS equipment - sirens, emergency lights, and diagnostic machinery – than traditional SUV’s.

The drawbacks of using the Escape Hybrid were a reduced carrying and towing capacity, as well as more expensive oil filters. However, the study notes that the reduced space never caused a problem for EMS operations, and that the increased oil filter cost is greatly offset by savings in gas.

This report highlights the importance of local action to mitigate climate change. In light of federal inaction to fight global warming, constituent pressure has prompted local community leaders to sign on to the Sierra Club’s Cool Cities campaign. A “Cool City” works to lower its greenhouse gas emissions 7% below 1990 levels by 2012. What is innovative about this campaign is that communities choose their own route to lower emissions. There are now over 40 Cool Cities in North Carolina, and many have fulfilled their obligation by replacing outdated public vehicles with hybrids. In the current push for greener vehicles across North Carolina, it would be irresponsible to overlook EMS vehicles, one of the most wasteful segments of any government fleet.

* Hawkins, Seth C. “The Green Machine: Development of a High Efficiency, Low Pollution EMS Response Vehicle.” (July 2007, pp. 108-120) Journal of Emergency Medical Services.

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