Now more than ever, our community is relying on steadfast teams of medical personnel, available 24/7, to assist citizens in all corners of Leon County. These teams rely on vital equipment to deliver their services, and for Leon County EMS that vital equipment is an ambulance.

EMS crews take great steps to be ready to respond to any call at a moment’s notice, including setting up at strategic posts around town to provide the quickest response to a particular location.

Sometimes the crews have to leave the ambulances idling at these posts in order to provide air conditioning to keep the crew cool in summer months, and to provide power to vital communications equipment, medicine refrigerators, and other life-support equipment.

The trade-off is that idling takes a toll on the vehicle, the environment, and budgets. Until recently, this was a trade that we were forced to accept. However, a new collaborative pilot project involving on-board battery systems in two of our ambulances has led to a 26-metric ton reduction in CO2 emissions and reduced idling by 75%.

Through collaboration and innovation, our county sustainability team and EMS accomplished a few shared goals – keeping ambulances reliable and in service longer while reducing fuel and emissions. The county vehicle fleet alone accounts for 17.9% of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from county operations. These vehicles help keep our community running, but these numbers highlight a need to think sustainably, innovate, and lead by example.

In October 2019, two Leon County ambulances were equipped with an idle reduction technology (IRT) from ZeroRPM. If you have driven a new car in the last few years, it is likely that you have used IRT; most cars now come with start/stop systems that automatically shut down and restart the engine when the car is stationary for more than a few seconds.

These discreet automatic systems are designed to increase fuel economy and reduce emissions by minimizing the amount of time an engine idles.

While the technology varies by application, the IRT being piloted in the two ambulances works similarly in that it enables the engine to be shut off while still maintaining power to life-support systems, cooled medicine compartments, telecommunications, etc.

It does this through the use of battery auxiliary power units (APUs) that can be plugged in and charged overnight to store extra electricity that can power everything when the engine is off. The software created by ZeroRPM automatically initiates the system when the key is turned, leaving operators with little extra thought or work.

Since the installation of the IRT and APUs, the average daily idle time for each ambulance has been reduced by more than 75% – with idle times being reduced from 10 hours to 2 hours each day.

By eliminating 8 hours of idling time on a single ambulance, every day Leon County EMS saves $17 (seven gallons of diesel) and prevents 78 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions. Between the two ambulances, this will lead to a combined annual fuel savings of roughly 5,000 gallons – saving the county $12,400 per year and leading to a year-over-year reduction in CO2 emissions of about 52 metric tons.

To put it another way, each year this will have the effect of growing 860 tree seedlings for 10 years or taking 11.2 passenger vehicles off the road.

Idle reduction technology is not only saving the county money in fuel costs, but also in vehicle maintenance. Every hour spent idling is equal to approximately 25-30 miles of driving, so less time idling means less wear and tear, which reduces the frequency of oil changes and filter replacements – not to mention the down time that the ambulances spend out-of-service.

What do these findings mean for us? As we integrate this technology into more ambulances, it will help Leon County meet our goal to reduce total fuel consumption by the county fleet by 30% by 2030, as set forth in our Integrated Sustainability Action Plan (ISAP).

Other steps we are taking to reduce GHG emissions include installing electric vehicle charging stations, “rightsizing” our fleet as old vehicles are replaced, and encouraging green driving habits among county employees. Leon County is exploring the potential application of this technology to other vehicles in the fleet and sharing our findings with Capital Area Sustainability Compact members as they explore sustainable transportation opportunities.

This is part of our commitment to seek innovative sustainability solutions to help drive our organization and community forward.

To learn more about what Leon County Sustainability is up to, follow us on Facebook or sign-up for our newsletter. Learn more at GrowingGreen.org .

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