N.C. Fire Officials Present 'Fire Chief's Energy Challenge'

The town of Cary, N.C. is on a mission after receiving a federal grant to implement sustainability initiatives at home and to spread the message outward.

Cary Fire Chief Allan Cain and Assistant Chief Tony Jordan spoke about their ‘Fire Chief’s Energy Challenge’ at Fire-Rescue International Thursday in Denver, Colo.

With public safety budgets as tight as ever, reducing energy costs is a logical step. “It just makes sense,” Cain said. His department is projecting a savings of $14,000 per year through retrofits to six old fire stations. Those changes will include upgrades to lighting and HVAC, sealing to prevent air drafts, LED exit signs and de-lamping of vending machines (which will save $110-$145 per year alone).

The department is also building a new Fire Station 8, which will be the town’s first “green-built” project and serve as a “Climate Showcase Fire Station.” It will include dual-flush toilets and reclaimed water for flushing; heat-resistant landscaping; solar panels; and solar-thermal water heating. Cain said it will be LEED compliant but will not be certified to save money. “You can build LEED compliant but don’t have to go through the certification process,” he noted.

The heart of the initiative, however, is in the challenge. At home, the department just kicked off a friendly competition in which each fire station competes to see which one can reduce its own energy usage the most by the end of the year. (The challenge is per station rather than a comparison between stations because some buildings will require more energy than others.) The winning station will receive a prize – free meals for members of every shift at several local restaurants.

Next, the department is challenging other departments to reduce their energy use by 10 percent by Oct. 2012 and by 20 percent by Oct. 2016, and to incorporate green building practices into any new facilities.

Cain discussed starting with benchmarking your stations’ current energy use through EPA’s Portfolio Manager at http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=evaluate_performance.bus_portfoliomanager_benchmarking.

When looking for ways to save, he suggests keeping in mind the differences between your stations’ individual “personalities,” and considering climate differences between your region and any others to which you are looking for examples. Among the cities they looked to were Chapel Hill and Charlotte.

Cain demonstrated that typically, lighting and plug-in items account for a major proportion of energy use, and that lighting should be each chief’s go-to item for easy and cheap energy reduction through energy-efficient bulbs or even reflective lighting during the day.

The pair also discussed vehicle energy use. They have implemented an idling policy (shut it down after 5 minutes unless actively in need.) They also explored biodiesel, but decided against it due to some maintenance issues they encountered, and have purchased one hybrid vehicle. Cain warned departments to carefully examine the cost/benefit analysis of vehicle replacement, as it may not be worthwhile without financial incentive – such as a grant.

And while his department had grant assistance through the EPA's Climate Showcase Communities Program, others may be able to obtain funding as well. “There are a lot of grant opportunities in a lot of places if you start sniffing around,” Cain said.

For more details visit:


For questions, contact Assistant Chief Tony Jordan at tony.jordan@townofcary.org or Chief Cain at allan.cain@townofcary.org.