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The Regeneration Gap: A fire chief wrestles with front-line apparatus time-outs due to EPA Diesel Emission Regulations.

FL Chief Wood

Chief Thomas R. Wood, from City of Boca Raton website.

Over the past couple of weeks Boca Raton Fire Rescue Services (FL) Chief Tom Wood has been giving STATter911.com a fire chief’s view of dealing with the challenges of regeneration in front-line fire trucks and ambulances equipped with diesel particulate filters.

Even with a non-technical mind like mine, I find the subject and the issues quite fascinating. I invited Chief Wood to share his experiences with our readers in a guest column.

Chief Wood (and STATter911.com) are interested in others with similar issues, including departments that have possibly found solutions to these problems. As always, we are glad to provide space for anyone with a dissenting view on this topic. Just contact STATter911.com at dstatter@wusa9.com.

All Fire and EMS apparatus should be exempt from the EPA Diesel Emission Regulations.

Chief Thomas R. Wood, CFO
Boca Raton Fire Rescue Services
6500 Congress Avenue, Suite 200
Boca Raton FL 33487
561-982-4040
twood@ci.boca-raton.fl.us 

FL Boca Raton DPF

Truck 4's DPF housing. Boca Raton Fire Rescue photo.

Imagine you are in the Army and involved in a tank battle.  All of a sudden an “idiot light” comes on telling you to regenerate your tank’s diesel motor.  The commanding officer radios the enemy and requests a “regeneration time out”.  This sounds ridiculous and is ridiculous!  Thus, the U.S. military was exempted from the 2007 and 2010 EPA diesel emissions regulations.  Now imagine you are a Fire Rescue or EMS agency responding to a vehicle crash with serious injuries on the Interstate.  You start the fire engine and the “idiot light” comes on.  You think there will be enough time to complete the call, but before you even arrive, the motor shuts down and will only re-start in one minute increments.  You are on the inside lane of an five lane busy highway and crossing to the right shoulder will not be easy in 60 seconds.  This was just one of our wonderful experiences with diesel regeneration.  If “time outs” on the battlefield were considered ridiculous for the military…why is it acceptable to have these “regeneration time outs” on emergency fire and EMS incidents???

We have 5 new (2009) Horton Medic Units, built on a Freightliner chassis with Mercedes diesel motors. We have 1 new (2009) Sutphen ladder truck with a CAT diesel motor.  All 6 of these meet the EPA 2007 diesel motor standards and require “regeneration”.

This wasn’t so bad for the first 6 months.  However, as the diesel particulate filters (DPF) became saturated, we discovered the world of “regeneration”.  There is no gauge.  An “idiot light” comes on and instructs you to “regenerate”.  If you fail to do so within a specified time period, the motor shuts off and will only restart at one minute intervals.  Now we can expect to have these 6 units “out of service” every few days for 30 to 45 minutes at a time.  That is if the system works.  One of these units has failed to regenerate two weeks in a row, after trying for nearly three hours.  The software we purchased for an extra $2,000 also would not diagnose the problem.  In both cases the unit was towed to the dealership for repair, and as of April 5 it remains “out of service”.

We have established a new computer aided dispatch (CAD) Code for “regeneration activity”, so we can track it better and so the battalion chiefs know why the units are out of service.

FL Boca Raton WarningFor a short term solution, I have suggested replacing the diesel particulate filters with new ones and sending the originals out to be refurbished.  The local CAT representative tells us they are not available for purchase!!!

I just can’t wait for my whole fleet to have these wonderful systems!!!

The IAFC should take this issue seriously and petition the EPA to exempt fire and EMS apparatus, in the same fashion that military vehicles were exempted. 

This insanity needs to stop before lives are lost!

Boca Raton Fire Rescue regeneration log for 4-05-2010

Read 2010 Fire Truck Engine Strategy from FAMA

Read 2007 Diesel Emissions Impact on Indoor Air Quality from FAMA

After submitting his original article to STATter911.com, Chief Wood added this new information:

Update…04/14/2010

It has been suggested that our employees were confused with the dash board light indicating “regeneration is needed” and the one indicating “extremely hot exhaust”.

Both symbols use the same basic design.  The regeneration one has the image of a filter and the hot exhaust one has the image of a thermometer.  At a glance, one could be confused.  Very high exhaust temperatures can be generated during “passive regeneration” which can occur when the apparatus is under normal driving conditions.  Thus the light warning you not to park near combustible items comes on, and some may think they are being told to regenerate.  I am not fully sold on this theory yet.

We have learned of multiple recalls for the regeneration equipment on our one CAT motor.  This is Day 9 and the ladder truck remains O.O.S. as it is not completing the regeneration process.

We are trying a new process of having our shop force the regeneration via the vendor provided software.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • play4keeps

    This whole idea is a terrible for the ergonomics of the cabs. They increase the size of the cab on the exterior and decrease it on the inside. The only solutions can be running biodiesel of at least B25. If the fuel was not going to be carcinagenic nor as poluting, there wouldn’t be a need for these systems in the first place. It’s like the Blu-Tec engines and “clean diesels” (which is a farse).

    Why do we have these filtration systems when we should have a clean fuel in the first place?? CAN YOU SAY, BIG OIL!!

    The warmer climate should have no problem with running biodiesel. The problem is finding a good supplier.

  • Jonathan S

    I agree, this is a terrible idea, however being familiar with CAT engines they do have a few problems. But if I am not mistaken, you should have a regen switch, where you can force a regeneration through the engine’s computer. You may be able to force a regen during a weekly inspection. As far as the actual system there are pressure regulators,filters, and sensors that affect the system. there are two regulators that tend to go bad that are in the fuel filter housing and the sensors on the actual combustion head behind the turbo have been updated, and the filters can get clogged and should be replaced whenever the fuel lines to the ARD head are serviced. the system has to have a certain fuel pressure within a very small gap. Also the actual head can melt the grounding probe for the spark plug, because of over fueling and getting too hot.

  • ltfd

    In Seattle, we disabled the auto-shutdown feature. The re-gen was a little weird at first, but we haven’t had any troubles once we got used to the pattern (approximately every 20 hours on our Engine- downtown company, 3000 runs/yr).

    The re-gen light comes on, but our units will never quit operating during an incident due to the regeneration system.

  • Oldman

    Check with your engine manufacturer BEFORE running bio-diesel. Many manufacturers limit you to B-10. Running anything higher may result in the voiding of an engine warranty.

    I have not noticed the issue with regeneration and having to “time out”. Both of our new apparatus have an over-ride which can be applied. Use of the “High Idle” feature can also be used to regenerate on a scene while the apparatus is staged. The down side of this is, instead of saving money, the apparatus uses more fuel.

  • Shamrock Driver

    I want to say up front that I’m not spec guru so I don’t know all the particulars of the truck I drive. That being said, I am the driver of an engine company that has a re-gen on it. So far I have never had any of these problems. We have to re-gen the truck about every 20 hrs of run time and it takes around 30-45 mins to go through the whole cycle. The truck gives us around an 8 hr grace period of run time so we can go on calls if needed and start over once we get back. To shut down the re-gen cycle all we have to do is disengage the parking break. The truck is a Spartan/Smeal with a Detroit Diesel engine. We’ve had the truck for 2 yrs now.

  • edogg

    All of the to appease the environmentalist wackjobs…government regulation at work!

  • Capt Scott

    We are operating about 10 Horton Ambulances on Chevy Kodiak chasis. The manual regen problem we have is extremely debilitating. We are constantly returning vehicles to the dealer for manual regeneration process. This is an expensive time consuming process, our fleet shop has a factory computer program and a DTC program that can reset the diagnostic trouble codes but that does not clean the particulate from the filter system. This must be done manually with a R&R of the filter element. I am wholly in favor of exempting emergency vehicles from this onerous government mandate. We will be purchasing International chasis in the next vehicle order but will likely have the same issues, I am just as leary of the Diesel Exhaust fluid version since the system is plumbed like a nuclear reactor and full of sensors and plumbing that would make a diesel mechanic tap out. Enough is enough. We also have had to cancel a response or two due to the engine de rating while enroute to a call. I am sure this will get worse as the engines get a few hours / miles on them. We are thinking of trying the Stanadyne diesel fuel additive to see if it will help cut down on particle generation and the resulting fouling caused by the cold sticky exhaust particulate that comes from low exhaust temps. Keeping our fingers crossed for a low tech fix….

  • NinFin

    One other way that this can be controlled is to make sure that every time you stop and put the engine in nuetral, you engage the “high idle.” I work in a city that is less than 10 square miles and rarely reach highway speeds (which is what this system was designed for), but by making sure the engine is in high idle any time it is on and not moving, we have prevented a lot of the problems we had with the truck when we got it.

  • Frank D. Harrisson

    In my opinion the EPA has to be downsized. The regulations that they enforce in cases as noted do not make common sense and those regulations do cause endangerment to anyone in need of that emergency service.

  • http://grumpydispatcher.blogspot.com/ The Grumpy Dispatcher

    We recently took delivery of a water tanker/pumper mounted on an International chassis, equipped with the new regen requirements.

    It has not yet hit its first regen cycle, however the rep claimed that the regen cycle can be canceled on demand at any time, simply by releasing the brake. He never mentioned anything about a grace period where the unit would not run if the regen was delayed for a particular amount of time, so I can’t rule that out.

    That any manufacturer would deliver fire/rescue units without the capability to override this feature is inexcusable. I am all for exemption, or at least unlimited override capability.

  • Scott Birge

    I would share a similar computer control issue from a different perspective. Recent generation tractors used by Florida Division of Forestry have a similar issue where high engine temperatures cause a computer controlled shut down of the engine. The computer does not know if the operator is in close proximity to the fire and shut down could mean injury or death to the operator. DOF has been working with the manufacturer to resolve the matter for fire applications. It would seem that such a thing could be done for Fire/EMS applications here.

  • anonymous

    When will someone start making a high horsepower reliable GAS engine, just don’t buy diesel. Something would change then. The whole regen thing doesn’t make much sense either, the EPA wants to limit outputs of diesels but to regen takes 20 to 30 minutes of high idle run time, using alot of fuel and burning at high temps, wonder what happens in the wildland world for these side exhaust output units.

  • Ben Waller

    This problem is overstated. The engine manufacturers provide a manual override that stops the regeneration process if the engine is engaged in a critical activity such as pumping at a fire. Once the regeneration is stopped, just finish the fireground activity and return to quarters. The regen can then take place in quarters. In the case of Crimson/Spartan, there is a way to “force” the override with a computer.

    Having lower emissions without a loss of power makes sense. We have an entire fleet of apparatus with the regeneration feature. Once our drivers experienced the regeneration start one time, we did minimal additional training, taught the drivers to just hit the manual regen override, complete the task, then let the regen take place later during a non-critical activity. If the regen is 1/2 way through back in quarters and you get another alarm, just override the regen and respond.

    The computer-forced regen can take place as part of a routine PM cycle when the appratus is out of service and being replaced by a reserve. An adequate reserve fleet, a plan, and a little training make the regeneration problem go away.

  • Anonymous

    Regarding Ben Waller’s Reply…

    The override switch on fire apparatus (EMS apparatus do not have these) is fine if you are not too busy. The grace period is not indefinite. Sooner, more than later you have to perform a parked regeneration and be out of service for about 35 minutes or suffer reduced horsepower or worse yet diesel motor shut down. As explained earlier, we had a medic unit in the HOV lane of I-95 when the motor would only restart at one minute intervals. This is not a safe condition.

    To overcome the issue on most of our apparatus our mechanics are using software purchased from the motor manufacturers to force parked regeneration on our time table, instead of at random. We are two weeks into this process and so far it seems like a workable alternative.

    Tom Wood

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  • Mike

    Had enough government yet?

  • NJSteve

    I’m sorry but I have to call issue with Chief Wood’s request to exempt all fire rigs from EPA diesel emission regs. And while I certainly agree that having a rig that will only run for a minute or be able to cross a highway, is totally unacceptable, calling for the elimination of emission regs is way overkill. And while I do admit I am not familiar with this system, it sounds like requiring override switches would probably be a more reasonable solution. Indeed it sounds like they are already present in many instances.

    I say this because while it is very important that we arrive at all emergencies dispatched to, it is also important that we don’t suffer long term effects from exposure to diesel fumes. Even with modern exhaust ventilation systems attached to rigs, it is impossible to avoid diesel exhaust from entering firehouses, in which many of us including myself spend 24 hours straight breathing in the air. Please don’t take us back to the dark ages where we blindly polluted the environment. This is particularly relevant on the 40th anniversary of the original Earth Day.

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  • Monk

    So la de dah our wonderful government once again lives in theory as opposed to real life. These jerks need to know what it is to have a real job! I say EXEMPT ALL EMT/FIRE RELATED VEHICLES FROM THIS ASININE REGULATION.

    I can see it now: after the 1st life is lost because of this idiotic regulation, someone in government will call for a panel to investigate, and eventually find something akin to “operator error” of find a way to accuse the engine manufacturer of improper design.

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  • Tom Wood

    Boca Raton Update…

    Since the exhaust plumbing was re-engineered and re-installed on our ladder truck, with the CAT motor, the regeneration process works well and does not get stuck regenerating for hours.

    Our 5 Medic Units were re-programmed to de-rate the motors instead of shutting them down if regeneration is not accomplished within the set time limits.

    We now force regeneration with vendor provided software every four weeks on our time table and this has stopped the random regeneration issues.

    Of interest with 2010 EPA rule technology is some of the terminology:

    SCR – Selective Catalytic Reduction
    EGR – Exhaust Gas Recirculation
    DEF – Diesel Exhaust Fuild (Urea)
    and don’t forget DPF from 2007 – Diesel Particulate Filter

    The Fire Apparatus Manufacturer’s Association (FAMA)web site has some very informative information regarding all of these acronyms.

    Warning – Keep your DEF (urea)5 gallon tank topped off. If the fuild drops below 3% the motor will de-rate 40% and the vehicle will only travel 5 mph. There is a DEF fuild level guage in the cab, but none at the pump panel, so the driver will need to keep an eye on it. The 5 gallons should last for at least two tanks of diesel.

    Lastly…I have heard directly from many fire officials from accross the US and Canada, telling me about their Regeneration problems. It sure would be nice to have the IAFC take a leadership role with this, at the very least to develop a “best practices” on how to deal with it.

    Thomas R. Wood, CFO, Fire Chief
    Boca Raton Fire Rescue Services
    Boca Raton, Florida

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  • Anonymous

    the larger issue is that if you dont let the regen take place it will start to limit truck power and or shut the unit down on the spot.

  • EVT Mike

    Only one engine manufacturer programs their engines to  limit truck power – Navistar.  DDC and Cummins do not.

  • Darren

    For what it’s worth diesel chassis exported do not have either DPF installed or the latest DEF system. No regeneration is required. That means manufacturers if allowed by EPA would have no problem supplying a chassis without the potentially dangerous or unrelaible equipment.

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  • Anonymous

    fire and ems vehicles have been added to the exempt list. intially it was strictly military vehicles. but the systems can be removed and new trucks can be ordered legally without the systems.