eLHF at station of Berlin fire department , Smart City Berlin

Image: Berlin Partner © eventfotografen.berlin

eLHF Soon in Operation

Is part of the Electric Fire and Rescue Service Vehicle project (“elektrisches Lösch- und Hilfeleistungsfahrzeug”, eLHF), funded by the Berlin Programme for Sustainable Development (“Berliner Programm für Nachhaltige Entwicklung”, BENE), the Berlin fire brigade cooperated closely with manufacturer Rosenbauer to develop a fully-electric fire engine. The prototype was tested in the capital under real-world conditions for 13 months. After an almost literal baptism by fire, the vehicle will now go into production; more fire engines of the same model will soon be in permanent use throughout the smart city of Berlin.

Even at first glance, the bright red, electric fire and rescue service vehicle looks a bit different than other fire engines: it seems more compact, more up-to-date and has metal blinds on either side. And that’s not all: this fire engine is the world’s first all-electric fire and rescue service vehicle.

The prototype was developed by manufacturer Rosenbauer in close cooperation with the Berlin fire brigade and has been in operation for about one year now, providing fire and rescue services in Mitte, Tempelhof-Schöneberg and at the Suarez station in Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf. “The Berlin fire brigade provides protection against a wide range of threats to public safety not covered by the police and our vehicles are strongly frequented in comparison to the federal territory. This makes us the ideal test site for a pilot programme like this one,” explains Jens Klink, the eLHF project manager for the Berlin fire brigade.

Funded by the Berlin Programme for Sustainable Development (“Berliner Programm für Nachhaltige Entwicklung”, BENE) and co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund, the eLHF project (funding reference 1213-B4-N) has one overarching aim: to develop the fire and rescue service vehicle of the future; a fire engine that contributes to reducing CO2 emissions in the city and thus to meeting Berlin’s climate protection goals. Occupational health and safety is another key aspect, which is why ergonomic adjustments, increased driver safety, lower noise pollution and reduced exhaust emissions at the depots were all included in the development of the prototype.

A 13-month test run

The electric fire and rescue service vehicle was called out more than 1,300 times in Berlin between early February 2021 and late February 2022. “This included operations that lasted quite some time, such as a fire at a carpenter’s workshop, where the vehicle was on site for about seven hours,” Jens Klink says. The all-electric prototype can be operated on location for 60 to 90 minutes, including equipment and pumps. After that, a diesel engine automatically kicks in, acting as a range extender that recharges the battery and ensures the vehicle can continue to run without any interruptions; the tank can hold 125 litres. At the fire stations, the battery of the electric fire and rescue service vehicle can be charged via two fast charging stations, one of which worked with a buffer battery during the test phase. It takes around 30 minutes to charge the vehicle at the stations.

The electric fire and rescue service vehicle has some great inner qualities, as well, starting with its huge interior with lateral seats. This gives the crew a lot more room and enables them to communicate directly with the crew commander, especially as the electric fire and rescue service vehicle is very quiet. In addition, machinists can steer the vehicle via a central display in the cockpit, without having to leave it while it is in operation. Another practical aspect: as the electric fire and rescue service vehicle is built extremely low to the ground, it doesn’t need ramps to the compartments. Crews can remove and operate equipment at ground level and no longer have to climb onto the vehicle’s roof to do so. The pneumatic chassis can raise and lower the electric vehicle and thus adapt it to meet the respective on-site requirements; it can even “wade” on water. During the test run, it also became apparent that the vehicle is very intuitive to handle; it took two days to instruct each crew on how to operate it – roughly the time it takes for conventional models.

“Generally speaking, the vehicle is very stable during operations,” Jens Klink says, summing up the experiences the project team gathered during the 13-month test run. “We did experience some technical problems that resulted in our having to take the vehicle out of service, but these problems were all due to the engine’s prototype status. They shouldn’t arise once the vehicle goes into production.” Klink also appreciates the fact that the Berlin fire brigade was involved in the development of the electric fire and rescue service vehicle from day one. “We were always able to check our requirements against the manufacturer’s results during development and could even demand changes if they related to our work. This was a really good example of a successful cooperation between the industry and civil service.”   

What are the next steps for the electric fire and rescue service vehicle?

The four-year project with a total budget of € 1.8 million will continue until June 2022. The Berlin fire brigade is currently evaluating and assessing the prototype’s test run in close cooperation with manufacturer Rosenbauer, after which more Rosenbauer RT models will be put into operation in Berlin. The electric vehicle costs roughly twice as much as conventional models. “The necessary budgetary resources have been applied for,” says Jens Klink and adds, “We have already determined how the first ten vehicles will be distributed and are currently reviewing whether the electric building connections are powerful enough and which fire stations will need an upgrade.”

At the moment, it is not quite clear when the first series of electric fire and rescue service vehicles will be on duty in Berlin. Other federal states have also indicated their interest; a fire station in North Rhine-Westphalia has already ordered two vehicles with similar configurations. In Amsterdam and Dubai, other electric prototypes of fire and rescue service vehicles are being tested.

If you would like to see the vehicle for yourself, June offers the perfect opportunity to do so: the electric fire and rescue service vehicle will be exhibited at Interschutz, the world’s leading trade fair for the fire and rescue services, which will take place from 20 to 25 June 2022 in Hannover. (vdo)