North Cowichan’s council learned at its meeting on Dec. 1 that replacing an aging 1999 gas-fuelled pick-up truck currently in use by its fire department with an electric or hybrid vehicle isn’t practical anytime soon.
Martin Drakeley, the municipality’s manager of fire and bylaw services, told council in a report that the technology for hybrid or electric vehicles for emergency services or heavy towing is not yet available, or has limited availability based on the required infrastructure.
He said that, currently, electric pick-up trucks are at least a year or more away and they have a waiting list, and they don’t have the towing capacity or payload required for the heavy trailers that the fire department is required to tow.
At the council meeting on Nov. 17, council deferred consideration on the replacement of the pick-up truck with a new gas-fuelled vehicle, at a cost of up to $70,000, pending a report from staff which included a review of the availability and suitability of the department using a hybrid or electric vehicle in place of a standard-fuel vehicle to replace the aging truck.
Drakeley said, currently, there is a very limited supply of hybrid heavy-duty three-quarter ton or one-ton pick-ups, that Motor Vehicle Act Regulations require to do the job, available on the market that match the specific needs of the fire department.
He also said that when providing firefighting services, the length of travel is sometimes considerable.
“The unit members may be required to camp some distance from civilization, and there would be no infrastructure to accommodate electric vehicles,” Drakeley said.
“As such, electric vehicles have been ruled out of being a viable option. The one-ton diesel truck is the most economical vehicle capable of towing the [necessary fire-fighting equipment and boats] and travelling distances without services. Also, provincial deployments have remote fuel depots whereby large vehicles can refuel, and the coordination between resources is extended with the same type of fuel.”
Coun. Kate Marsh pointed out that diesel engines are worse for the environment than regular gas ones in that they emit a lot more pollutants.
Mayor Al Siebring said he understands the dilemma between using diesel engines, which are cheaper on fuel but emit more pollutants, and gas engines, which are more expensive to operate.
“We will get there [using more hybrid and electric vehicles] but we will have to live what we have to live with for now,” he said.
At the end of the discussion, council authorized the purchase of a standard-fuel pick-up truck.