LOS ANGELES – Ford Motor Company teamed up with the Los Angeles County Lifeguards, a division of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, to help save lives while protecting the environment.

Ford has presented the squad with the first 10 of a fleet of 45 eco-friendly Escape Hybrids with intelligent four-wheel-drive, specially equipped for use on rescue patrol along 72 miles of Southern California coastline.

 “We are the largest lifeguard organization in the world, and we have always blazed the trail for the profession,” said Mike Frazer, chief, Lifeguard Services, Los Angeles County Fire Department. “We wanted to be the first public safety agency in the country to go green.”

The front-wheel-drive Ford Escape Hybrid returns 34 mpg in city driving and 30 mpg on the highway. Intelligent four-wheel-drive models, like the ones used by the lifeguards, return 29 mpg city and 27 highway.

Frazer said he knew that the Escape Hybrid was an ideal choice from an environmental standpoint, but he admits to having some initial reservations about whether an SUV would function as well on the beach as the compact pickup trucks the lifeguards were used to driving.

“The switch from a pickup to an SUV was something new to us, but when Ford brought the Escape Hybrid down to the beach, we were amazed at how well it performed,” he said, adding that he was particularly surprised by the vehicle’s ability to navigate through the sand without getting stuck.

With the Escape Hybrid, Frazer said he was also able to make more precise turns, enjoy extra headroom (he’s 6’5”) and gain greater visibility, which is a huge safety plus on the beach.

The Ford designers decided to remove 60 percent of the rear seat on the driver’s side and replace it with a rescue equipment storage unit — an aluminum box with specially designated spaces for important emergency equipment, such as defibrillators, trauma boxes, and oxygen tanks. The remaining 40 percent of the seat was left intact in case the lifeguards had to transport someone, such as a lost child.

Ford designers also outfitted the Escape Hybrids with a custom-fit roof rack for the lifeguards’ paddle board and spine board, and easy-to-clean rubber floor mats, and cargo liners.

When it came to the exterior, it was important to make the vehicle look “fresh but not trendy.” The vehicles were painted a vibrant yellow — iconic for lifeguards — and then detailed with authoritative graphics and finished off with dark wheels.