Hilton Head Island's red firetrucks have gone green.
The Town of Hilton Head Island Fire & Rescue Division is using technology to reduce the amount of harmful substances spewed into the air by its trucks.
The division replaced its fleet during the past two years with 10 new firetrucks that use the latest "green" diesel-engine design.
The last two trucks were delivered this spring and have been operating for the past two months.
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Hilton Head is among the first departments in the nation to use the new diesel engines, Fire Chief Lavarn Lucas said.
"They are the most up-to-date diesel engines on the market from an environmental perspective. They produce less soot and have less harmful emission than any previous diesel engine on the market," Lucas said. "We could have purchased firetrucks with a cheaper engine that met existing federal emissions standards, but we chose not to do that and instead purchased the newest engine in order to have the more positive environmental impact."
The town spent about $15,000 more a truck to install the diesel engines, which reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent and particulate matter -- fine particles in diesel exhaust -- by 90 percent compared to the old engines, said Ed Boring, deputy fire chief of support services.
Particulate matter can penetrate deep into the lungs and pose serious health risks, including aggravated asthma and lung damage, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Diesel exhaust also is a likely human carcinogen, the EPA says.
The town spent about $3.8 million purchasing eight pumpers and two "quints," a combination fire engine and ladder truck, with money budgeted for capital improvements. Many of the trucks in the old fleet were from the late 1980s and had logged more than 100,000 miles, Boring said.
The new engines are programmed to begin a "regeneration sequence" after a certain number of hours of engine use. The process filters soot from the exhaust. Once full, the filter is heated to 1,200 to 1,400 degrees, incinerating the soot, which falls off the filter into a sump.
"You can put your finger into the tailpipe and there is no soot," Boring said.
The exhaust system, though, burns so hot it can melt asphalt, creating the potential for fires as trucks sit for prolonged periods while crews respond to emergencies, Lucas said. As a result, the department had the manufacturer divert the exhaust away from the ground.
The trucks also include a newer, greener firefighting application: foam.
"Fighting a fire with water alone, you extinguish the fire by reducing the temperature of the fire below its ignition (point). With a mixture of water and a non-toxic, non-polluting foam concentrate, you reduce the temperature of the fire, but also exclude the oxygen that feeds the fire, thus extinguishing it faster and safer," Lucas said. "By doing so, you reduce the amount of damage from the fire and the toxic products that get released into the air."
While not a new way to fight fires, older technology made foam tedious to use, Lucas said.
"Now, we can switch from one to another at a flip of the switch," he said. "We can use foam much faster and much more often than before."
There will be no leaking oil, either. The trucks have a centrifugal pump that uses air from the brakes to create a vacuum that draws water from a pond or pool when the pumpers are empty. The old technology drew oil to seal the pump, which was then spit onto the ground, Boring said.
The engine upgrades make up an overall scheme to find small ways to protect the environment, said town manager Steve Riley.
The town also is going green with its other vehicles.
"We have purchased a number of hybrids as we replace town vehicles," Riley said. "We will also be looking at electric vehicles as they come onto the market."