A decades-old program allowing fire departments to purchase surplus military vehicles appears to be no more.
An agreement between the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency, aimed at reducing emissions, will stop the sale of defense vehicles that don’t meet the EPA’s emission standards, the state forestry service reports.
“This action will ultimately result in increased exposure of communities to loss of life and property associated with wildfire, as well as increased fire suppression costs,” said George Geissler, state forester and director for Oklahoma Forestry Services. “The greenhouse gas emissions associated with the vehicles are marginal at best compared to emissions of an uncontrolled wildfire.”
Through the Rural Fire Defense Program, forestry services have acquired federal surplus vehicles for pennies on the dollar, Guthrie Fire Chief Eric Harlow said. The vehicles brought to Oklahoma have been dispersed to departments in need of equipment. Fire crews have 180 days to fully equip vehicles for fighting fires before they’re inspected.
The Guthrie Fire Department has two trucks that were provided through the program, Harlow said. The agreement won’t prevent crews from using the re-manufactured vehicles they already have, but not being able to acquire more vehicles through the program is a major concern for Harlow and small, volunteer departments.
“It’s a constant battle with the new equipment,” Harlow said. “It’s a lot of high-tech equipment and it’s prone to having issues and it causes a lot of down time for our equipment.”
Cecil Michael, the rural fire coordinator for the Northern Oklahoma Development Authority, said the program has benefited fire departments for about 35 years. Without the program, he said, departments will suffer.
“Whatever it might be that they may or may not have budgeted dollars to buy, this program provides millions and millions of dollars of equipment,” Michael said.
Forestry services reported 8,812 vehicles and pieces of equipment acquired through the program, valued at more than $150 million, currently being utilized by rural fire departments in the state.
Oklahoma has about 900 volunteer fire departments in communities of fewer than 10,000 people.
With an increase in home construction in rural areas over the past decade, the need for well-equipped, local fire departments is an increasing importance, officials said. Local departments in Oklahoma are first on the scene for more than 75 percent of all wildfires.
Forestry services is working with state and federal officials to resolve the issue and make the equipment available, said Geissler, of the state forestry service.