Kennebunk Fire Chief Jeff Rowe stands beside the new Tesla 3, which the town purchased for around $41,500 back in the spring. It is thought to be the first Tesla purchased by a Maine fire department. Tammy Wells Photo

KENNEBUNK — If Fire Chief Jeff Rowe were headed to Bangor, or somewhere out of state for a conference, he would likely know the most efficient way to get there. He might not know where the charging stations were though, should he need one, for the new Tesla 3 command vehicle.

He could soon find out, by using the car’s GPS, which not only plots the course, but also marks the charging stations — and how long he would have to be there for the charge to complete.

The new command vehicle arrived March 30, and so far, Rowe has been pleased with its performance. While some people raise their eyebrows when they hear the word Tesla, imagining a price tag with lots of zeros included, the Tesla 3 all-wheel drive purchased by the town cost taxpayers about $41,500 — which includes a $7,500 rebate from Efficiency Maine.

The fire chief had intended to buy a Chevrolet Tahoe — but was were having trouble locating one that matched specifications, and after exploring the Tesla further, and considering the town’s commitment to energy efficiency, Rowe asked the Select Board to approve the Tesla 3 in February, which they did.

The town is a signatory to the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate and Energy.

“This is a major step forward,” said Kennebunk Energy Efficiency Chair Sharon Staz as the Select Board approved the purchase.

The Tesla 3 cost about $2,200 more than the Tahoe, but there are operational savings. Rowe estimated it costs about $30 a month, or $360 a year to keep the car charged, about $1,140 less than was budgeted for gasoline for the last command vehicle, a big GMC.

It is a noticeably quiet ride.

The dashboard of the Tesla 3, recently purchased by Kennebunk Fire Department as a command car, is bare of instruments – except for the computer screen. Fire Chief Jeff Rowe is in the driver’s seat, explaining how the car works. Tammy Wells Photo

The dash is bare, with no instrument panel – though it sports a computer with all that information available at the fingertips.

Its range, when fully charged, is 322 miles.

It is used primarily by Rowe and has also been driven by other fire department personnel. It is used for traveling to inspections and to fire calls and for related meetings and events out-of-town.

On a short drive around town a week ago, Rowe explained its attributes — like when you step on the accelerator, there is no hesitation – none.

It is thought to be the first Tesla in Maine used in the fire service. An internet search turned up a private fire company in the Ukraine that had two back in 2018, but is unknown if they are still in use.

The cars are popular with police departments — a June 30 story by The Drive, distributed by MSN, related the story of the Bargersville, Indiana, Police Department, which bought a Tesla 3 a year ago after the police chief there compared it and the Dodge Charger the department usually purchased. Despite a hefty price difference in that scenario, the chief calculated savings ahead with the electric vehicle.

Officer Charles Sampson of the Westport (Connecticut) Police Department said the Tesla 3 the department put into service late last year is used for traffic enforcement and on patrol.

Kennebunk Fire Chief Jeff Rowe demonstrates the command center he is building, fitted into the rear trunk of the department’s new Tesla 3, for use at fire scene. the Tesla 3, the town’s first all-electric vehicle, arrived in the spring. Tammy Wells Photo

“We like it,” he said in a February interview. “It’s a nice driving car, it is comfortable and it fits our business.”

Tesla 3 comes with an 8-year, 120,000-mile warranty on the battery and drive train.

Rowe said there are charging stations around the area, and a class 2 charger has been installed at the fire department, one of two awarded to the town through a grant by Efficiency Maine. The second will be installed at Washington Hose Company. He said he typically plugs the Tesla in when he arrives at work in the morning, and depending on how low it is, the charge is usually fully complete by noon. Chargers one typically uses at home take longer, and the ones found at turnpike service areas take less, he said.

“I still catch myself looking at the charge (gauge),” he said, figuring that practice will cease, in time.

These days, Rowe is building a command center – in effect, a slide-out office, in the rear trunk, where he can keep track of what is going on at fire scenes. It is smaller than the one he had in the big SUV, but, he said, it wasn’t that many years ago that a command car he used in a different community was a Ford Crown Victoria – that didn’t have all that much room for equipment or a command center. The Tesla 3 also has room for equipment in the front, in the space where a gasoline engine would go in a non-electric vehicle.

“It’s a nice car,” Rowe said.

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