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September 15, 2021   |   Diesel Technology Forum

Policy Insider

From Wildfires to Hurricanes: Role of Diesel Power in Protecting Public Health and Safety on Full Display So Far in 2021

Having the right tools and technology that are reliable, available, and proven, that can get the job done during adverse conditions, is a core part of readiness and response.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, continuing western wildfires and 2021’s other natural and man-made disaster events, the importance of technology to deliver an effective response and the essential role of diesel power in response and recovery, protecting public health and safety comes clearly into focus.   From weather-related events like Hurricane Ida and its devastating aftermath in the south and mid-Atlantic region, to recent floods in Tennessee and Europe, to the growing number of wildfires in the West, to the tragic building collapse of Champlain Towers in Surfside Florida, disasters that used to be a once in a lifetime event have become all too frequent occurrences.

When disaster strikes, the ability to mount a rapid and effective response to minimize the loss of life and property is top priority of governments, communities, individuals and families. So far in 2021, the demand for diesel power in disaster response and recovery is significant. First responders – fire and police – that get the first calls for rescues and getting out of dangerous situations, rely on diesel power in the form of fire and rescue vehicles, along with high-water personnel carriers of the National Guard, like those deployed in Louisiana and New Jersey. Federal, state, and local government emergency managers have heavy-duty mobile command centers with self-contained generators to effect the field response and coordinate resources. Material handling equipment like backhoes, wheel loaders and skid steer loaders are brought in and are working to clear roadways of debris for access of utility and emergency vehicles. 

Electric grid outages put out the call for specialized bucket and lift trucks (“aka cherry pickers”) and other heavy equipment and machines to lift and clear downed trees and debris, drill holes and reset 100-foot poles, and sometimes heavy transformers and switchgear.

From Louisiana and Mississippi to New Jersey and New York, diesel mobile generator units and dewatering pumps were deployed, some by the US Army Corp of Engineers. These portable and skid-mounted high-capacity pumps can move over 3,000 gallons of water a minute. Telecommunications providers rely on diesel powered generators to restore mobile phone service and operations at cell phone towers.

In California and parts of Nevada, mobile generators have been activated or are standing by to power critical services and communities for when traditional grid power is turned off (Public Safety Power Shutoff events) due to wildfire risk. For potentially longer operational times, diesel generators – like all diesel engines and equipment – can utilize virtually any blend of renewable, low carbon biodiesel fuels that reduce greenhouse gas and other emissions.

Building collapses are thankfully a rare occurrence, but the tragic building collapse of Champlain Towers in Surfside Florida and subsequent rescue and recovery operations demonstrated the role of “heavy equipment” – which means diesel powered excavators, skid steer loaders, backhoes, light towers and more to aid first responders and search crews and ultimately facilitate the removal of the debris.

Wildfire response relies on a mix of non-traditional (aircraft and bulldozers) and traditional fire-fighting equipment like pumper trucks, water tankers and all-terrain field fire response vehicles. Bulldozers use their sheer power and ability to operate and maneuver around all kinds of steep and unsteady terrain and are a critical part of the large wildfire response effort, clearing ground vegetation to create a fire break often at the fire’s edge.   

In each of these instances, having the right tools and technology that are reliable, available, and proven, that can get the job done during adverse conditions, is a core part of readiness and response. In nearly every instance outlined here, these are examples of where diesel power is playing a primary or substantial role today. As we look to diversify our energy sources and tackle the climate change challenge, it is important to maintain effective disaster response and readiness with proven technology like diesel power that is widely available and able to get the job done, with lower emissions and greater efficiency than ever before.


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Allen Schaeffer
Executive Director

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