EPA Relaxes Engine Requirements on Fire Trucks

Chris Mc Loone

I was pleased to see the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recent announcement that it would relax its requirements on engines used in fire apparatus and ambulances. It makes total sense, and I never understood why it was imposing the same regulations on fire apparatus that it does on over-the-road trucks. But, although I agree with what it’s doing, I don’t know that it’s doing it for the right reasons.

I am no fan of the regeneration process. The light always comes on at the most inopportune times. Between responding to the firehouse, the actual emergency response, and the paperwork after a call, I’m often gone for 30 to 45 minutes. Calling home to say, “I have to stay for another 30 to 45 minutes to put the truck through a regeneration,” is a phone call I just don’t want to make. We all chip in though, and it gets done. Why? We don’t want to ruin the engine or in any way hinder ourselves in performing our duties at the scene of a call. It’s inconvenient when it comes up, but we handle it.

In this month’s article titled, “Aftertreatment Regeneration and the Fire Service,” author Brian Chaput explains the regeneration process, why it needs to be performed, what will happen if we don’t perform it, and the warnings we’ll receive before the engine begins to fail or lose performance-reasons the EPA claims to be changing its regulation.

In the recent regulatory announcement detailing how emergency vehicle regulations would be relaxed, the EPA states, “The emission control systems built for diesel engines are robust and effective for the majority of the heavy-duty fleet; however, when this maintenance does not occur as designed, many engines are set to cut power to prevent abnormal conditions from causing damage or excess emissions.”

It also states, “EPA is proposing revisions that would allow manufacturers to request and EPA to approve modifications to emissions control systems on new and in-use emergency vehicles so they can be operated as intended, without reduced performance during emergency situations. For new engine or vehicle certifications, these improved controls or settings would generally be approved as auxiliary emission control devices (AECDs). For in-use engines and vehicles, EPA is proposing to allow engine and vehicle manufacturers to submit requests for EPA approval of emergency vehicle field modifications.”

Chaput states, “If you do not clear out the diesel particulate filter (DPF) regularly, the backpressure can increase to a point that will effectively choke the engine exhaust and cause the engine or aftertreatment device to fail. To reach this point of filter loading, the operator has received and ignored several warning lights during several hours of operation.”

An important point Chaput makes is that the regeneration process can be interrupted and restarted again later if a call comes in during a regeneration. So, why aren’t we doing it?

I’m a big fan of what the EPA is doing, but the reason it should be changing the regulation is because of the vast differences between over-the-road truck operation and apparatus operation-not because departments aren’t conducting regenerations. There isn’t a fire department around that would decry going green and reducing emissions. Some apparatus manufacturers have been proactive in developing on-board systems to help reduce emissions. Some departments have gone as far as equipping apparatus with solar panels to ensure that equipment depending on the 12-V system can get the power it needs without compromising the system and draining the batteries. So, there are obviously ways to reduce emissions without expensive aftertreatment equipment. Take a look at the November 2011 issue of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment to learn how the East Point (GA) Fire Department invested in technology for its new apparatus that helps preserve the environment by reducing emissions.

The bottom line is that the EPA is doing the right thing by trying to make the rules different for fire apparatus and ambulances than for other vehicles. Remember, these proposals are not etched in stone. The EPA is accepting comment on all parts of the rule and is also publishing the provisions for dedicated emergency vehicles in a direct final rule. According to the EPA, “This means that separable emergency vehicle provisions that do not receive adverse comment will become final 60 days from publication in the Federal Register. EPA will withdraw the parts of the direct final rule that receive adverse comments and respond to all comments as part of a final rule.” In the meantime, take some time to read Chaput’s article, and make sure you don’t ignore the signs that it’s time for a regeneration.

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