front corner view of fire truck, grey model in large courtyard area in front of large buildings
As municipalities across Canada look to lower their transportation emissions, local fire departments in Toronto and Greater Montreal are taking the crucial first steps to transition some of their fire trucks to electric. Photo: REV Group Inc

Two electric pumper fire trucks and one electric rescue truck, made by REV Group, will help fire services in Toronto and Varennes, Que., reduce emissions and improve firefighter health and safety, while standing up to the rigours of the job

As municipalities across Canada look to lower their transportation emissions, several local fire departments are taking the crucial first steps to transition some of their fire trucks to electric.

Recently, the Toronto Fire Services, Canada’s largest municipal fire department, announced that it has placed an order for two Vector fire pumper trucks from Spartan Emergency Response brand, a subsidiary of a U.S.-based vehicle manufacturer REV Group, Inc.

“Toronto Fire Services is pleased to be working with Safetek Emergency Vehicles Ltd. and the REV Group Inc. on the design and delivery of our first fully electric pumper trucks,” says Matthew Pegg, Toronto Fire Services chief in a press statement. “These trucks will have the same functionality and capabilities as our other pumper trucks but will leverage leading-edge electric vehicle technology.”

Each pumper truck will cost $2 million. 

“The price of $2 million per unit is comparable to other units being purchased in the market (Brampton being the most recent), and approximately twice the price of a conventional pumper truck,” says Rob Anselmi, the division chief for the Toronto Fire Services in an email to Electric Autonomy Canada.

The fire services department is also in the process of determining the level of chargers they will be installing and where they will be located.

Custom all-electric vehicle

REV Group, through another one of its subsidiary brands, E-ONE, also announced in June that it will build a custom all-electric Vector Rescue Decon truck for the city of Varennes Fire Safety Service in suburban Montreal. The rescue trucks will carry extrication equipment, blocks, and self-contained breathing apparatus and are equipped with breathing air systems and showers on board.

“This emergency truck is one-of-a-kind,” said Martin Damphousse, mayor of Varennes in a press release. “In addition to having a self-sufficiency that guarantees reliability for the entire duration of interventions, it will meet the needs of the Fire Safety Service on three specific points: the decontamination of firefighters on site with their equipment, air refuelling breathing and release during a call.”

Meanwhile, Calgary’s fire department might also be interested in testing out electric fire trucks. A city spokesperson confirmed in an email exchange with Electric Autonomy that the department is “very early in the process so we don’t have much information to share besides they are looking into it.”

Designed for “North American” needs

The REV Group introduced its electric Vector fire truck models in August 2021 and describes the design of the vehicles as “North-American style.”

“North American firefighters prefer something bigger and more traditional looking for the most part. What we decided was that we were going to build a truck that looked and felt like a North American firetruck but it just ran on electric instead of diesel,” says Roger Lackore, director of product development at REV Group in an interview with Electric Autonomy.

The fire pumper trucks are equipped with 327 kWh of automotive-grade batteries, while the rescue truck uses 316 kWh of automotive-grade batteries. For both vehicles, the company says low battery cell placement will ensure a safer, lower centre of gravity for greater stability during operations.

While the Vector trucks are all fully-electric, REV also decided to equip its vehicles with a range extender and a diesel generator in cases of major incidents and the fire trucks are unable to charge at a station.

“We believe that 99 per cent of all the emergency responses that an urban or suburban truck needs to tackle can be done on electric only with our product,” explains Lackore. “But if you get to the point where you have an extended emergency, you’ve got a brownout for example…the range extender is going to come, the diesel generator is going to start generating power and start recharging the batteries for you.”

Lackore adds that as long as diesel is being filled into the truck when the battery is at zero, then the Vector will continue operating seamlessly.

“[Firechiefs] will always want to be prepared and they don’t ever want to have their equipment fail them and then something bad happens. That’s really why that diesel engine is there, so that you can just keep going as long as you need to…but it’s quite possible that may never need to come on in an actual operation.”

Benefits of going electric

Improved driver and passenger health and safety are advantages in switching any fleet to electric. But these aspects are particularly salient for firefighters and other first responders.

“When you’re running a diesel engine, you got that exhaust coming out. With electric you have no exhaust, so you don’t have the heat, you don’t have the particulate matter and you don’t have the diesel exhaust blowing around where they’re having to work,” says Lackore. “The other thing is the noise. Diesel engines are really noisy and so now, [with electric] you’ve got less noise on the scene and people can communicate better,”

Another key advantage for switching to electric, adds Lackore, is the clear positive impact it will have on the environment.

As part of Toronto’s TransformTO Net Zero Strategy, the city has set a goal to achieve net zero emissions by 2040. Since Toronto Fire Services responds to 300 to 400 calls per day, the municipal government thinks that the adoption of these electric fire trucks will help them advance closer to their targets.

“The development and production of a fully electric pumper is not only a commitment to the modernization of how Toronto Fire serves the people of Toronto, it is a commitment to our city’s wider climate action goals,” says Toronto Mayor John Tory in a press statement.

“I am so impressed with the leadership and innovation Toronto Fire is bringing to this project. I look forward to the day that the City unveils the new pumpers and showcase this industry-leading technology.”

The order for Toronto Fire Services electric trucks will be completed by authorized dealer Safetek Emergency Vehicles Ltd by 2024. While the Varennes order is being handled by 1200 Degrees, an E-ONE-authorized dealer and is scheduled to be delivered to the city by 2023.