GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — As an equipment operator for the Grand Rapids Fire Department, John Keillor is used to muscling a big, red, diesel-belching fire truck through the streets of Grand Rapids. But Friday, he was behind the wheel of a fire engine that sounded more like a big red golf cart.

“I really got into this seat wanting to hate this machine. And unfortunately, I really like it. So far, it is winning me over,” Keillor said.

Friday was show-and-tell day for what the future of fire engines may be.

The Rosenbauer RTX is the first electric-powered fire engine produced in the U.S. Batteries move the rig. If it runs out of juice at the scene, a diesel engine kicks in. It’s designed to save fuel, curb diesel emissions and improve conditions for firefighters.

“We have a complete reduction of noise, which make it easier for the firefighter to communicate and do their jobs,” Todd McBride, sales and marketing manager for Rosenbauer America’s RTX Fire Engine, said.

The Wyoming, Minnesota-based Rosenbauer is not just selling the electric idea with the RTX. Its all-wheel steering allows it to turn on a dime. Air shocks and the cab design make it easier and safer for firefighters to get in and out of. 

“We’ve been able to get that first step off the ground, in as little as ten inches off the ground as compared to roughly 24 inches on a diesel engine,” McBride said.

As with any new technology, there are questions, like whether the batteries will last the average of 10 to 15 years a fire engine is in service and about other reliability concerns. And firefighters are a very traditional group: Will they buy into a rig that looks like it should be on a street in Europe?

“I think a lot of its education. And I think we’re doing a good job of getting out there and getting this in front of firefighters,” McBride said.

Don’t expect to see an electric fire engine sitting in a Grand Rapids city firehouse anytime soon. The city’s not buying into the idea yet. 

“It’s a brand-new concept,” GRFD Deputy Chief Eric Freeman said. “We’re thinking 10 years down the road, this may be where we are. Where everything becomes eclectic at that point. We don’t know.  But we want to get our eye on what’s available in the market and make sure we’re responsible when looking at all of our options for the future.”