Washington – The signs on the side of Rosenbauer America's RT electric firetruck said "Reduced Noise."
They weren't kidding. The short, sleek vehicle was idling on its two pollution-free 1,000-pound batteries but made no discernible sound.
But the quiet maneuvering is not the Minnesota-designed truck's biggest feature, its makers hope.
The trucks, made in Wyoming, Minn., also can turn all four tires 90 degrees to "crab" through crowds and accident scenes. And it has other high-tech additions to make it easier to fight fires.
But with public and private initiatives that push energy sustainability and pollution reduction, the truck's electric engine has become a focus.
A full-power input can add a 30% battery charge in 15 minutes, allowing for the multiple trips each day firefighters must make, the company said.
Rosenbauer America brought the truck to a working firehouse in the nation's capital to sell it to the district and to bring attention to lawmakers.
"We're here," said Rosenbauer America CEO John Slawson, "to educate policymakers. Early adoption is expensive and we need financial help."
An RT firetruck ranges in price from $1 million to $1.2 million, a company spokesman said.
Fire departments in Dubai, Berlin and Amsterdam already use the RT.
Rosenbauer America wants to open up the U.S. market, eventually producing about 300 vehicles a year at the Minnesota manufacturing plant.
Slawson said the first RT for an American fire department is slated for delivery to Los Angeles by year's end. Portland, Ore., also has agreed to buy one, as has Vancouver, British Columbia.
John Donnelly, acting fire and medical services chief for Washington, D.C., called the RT's quiet engine and smaller size "clear advantages" over existing vehicles.
"This is an interesting test concept," Connelly said. There has not been much adaptation of technology specifically to firefighting, he added.
But Rosenbauer America's eventual success with the RT will depend on demonstrating its functionality.
Companies "have to prove a concept" to get fire departments to buy into new technology, Connelly said.
Rosenbauer America is "changing from an industrial company to a technology company," Slawson said.
The initials RT stand for revolutionary technology, and a decade of development and tweaks lend a science fiction ambience to the vehicle.
Inside, the driving compartment offered a rotating driver's seat, headroom for a 6-foot tall person to stand comfortably, and seating for an additional fire crew.
All-wheel steering moves the RT in any direction and cuts the turning radius by 8 feet from standard firetrucks.
The bed of the truck lowers to 7 inches to help firefighters humping 100 pounds of equipment avoid back strain. A 1,000-gallon water tank sits low in the body to protect against rollovers.
The same electronics can raise the bed to 39 inches to avoid floodwaters.
Digital communications and monitoring will let commanders measure the heart rates and oxygen supplies of individual firefighters as they work, Slawson explained. The feature aims to keep firefighters from overextending themselves and making operations more efficient and safe.
"Firefighters are all about helping other people," Slawson said. Technology on board will help the command monitor individuals to know when they need a break.
Slawson likens RT's introduction to the firefighting market with the replacement of horse-drawn firetrucks with vehicles driven by gas engines.
His prediction is far from being proved, yet Slawson is confident the timing it now.
"People have to accept innovation and technology to move ahead," he said.
Jim Spencer • 202-662-7432