WASHINGTON — Sen. Jim Inhofe announced a deal Wednesday that will allow rural fire departments continued access to surplus military vehicles that don’t meet Environmental Protection Agency emission standards.
The new arrangement will involve more red tape for the many Oklahoma fire departments that acquire and modify the equipment, but Inhofe said it was the best short-term solution.
The senator began working with the EPA and the Department of Defense after The Oklahoman reported last week that rural firefighters would no longer be able to use the vehicles. Gov. Mary Fallin was also involved in talks with the EPA.
George Geissler, director for Oklahoma Forestry Services, had warned that the loss of access to the military vehicles would result in increased exposure to loss of life and property, and increased fire suppression costs in rural Oklahoma.
Cecil Michael, rural fire coordinator for the Northern Oklahoma Development Authority, said the Rural Fire Defense Program had benefited fire departments for about 35 years and provided “millions and millions of dollars of equipment.”
The threat to the program was the result of a decision by the Defense Department to comply with a longstanding policy requiring the destruction of equipment that didn’t meet pollution standards. Inhofe, a senior member of the committees that oversee the EPA and the Defense Department, enlisted other lawmakers in the effort to keep the program alive.
The Defense Logistics Agency, an arm of the Defense Department, released a statement Wednesday, saying that it would “immediately resume issuing military vehicles and equipment with an associated National Security Exemption to authorized law enforcement agencies and to DoD Fire Fighter Program recipients.”
Inhofe applauded the agreement but said the equipment would now remain under title to the Defense Department so it could be destroyed when no longer used.
“This new agreement will create more red tape for our local fire departments by requiring the roughly 17,000 pieces of surplus equipment around the state to now be tracked and returned once they are no longer in use,” Inhofe said. “This is the best short-term answer to maintain the program with the DOD, and I will be working with my colleagues to address the unnecessary regulation created by the agreement.”