Military surplus program restored for fire departments

The program helps cash-strapped rural departments by supplying them with surplus military vehicles to rebuild and reuse

Gainesville Daily Register

COOKE COUNTY, Texas — The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) reversed a recent decision to cut a popular program that provides surplus military trucks, tankers and other vehicles to rural fire departments.

Cooke County volunteer fire departments, county precincts and the Gainesville Police Department have utilized the governmental military vehicle surplus program, buying 10 to 15 vehicles in the last 10 years, Cooke County Emergency Management coordinator Ray Fletcher said.

The program helps cash-strapped rural departments by supplying them with surplus military vehicles to rebuild and reuse.

The DOD has a 25-year-old agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to abide by EPA standards on the amount of pollution a vehicle or engine can emit. Federal restrictions on diesel engine emissions have continually tightened during the past seven years.

"About 99 percent of the military surplus does not meet EPA emission standards," said the owner of a local diesel repair shop. "Emission standards is something the government doesn't worry about on a battlefield."

The program provides vehicles that normally would cost a small rural fire department $150,000 to $200,000. However, departments need only equip the vehicle at a cost of $30,000 to $40,000.

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and senior member of the Environment and Public Works (EPW) committee was pleased by the agreement reached by the EPA and the DOD.

"I applaud the DOD and EPA for coming to an agreement on a 25-year-old rule that the Department of Defense recently decided to start enforcing to the detriment of a program supporting Oklahoma's local fire departments and their ability to fight wildfires," Inhofe said. "This quick resolution would not have been possible without the rapid criticism from many members of Congress and the coordinated effort with (Oklahoma) Governor Fallin's office."

Inhofe said that the agencies decided to extend the national security exemption for this program on the grounds that the vehicle titles would remain under DOD after being re-purposed in order to ensure that the vehicles are eventually destroyed.

"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."

The affected programs will be notified that the suspension has been lifted.

"The Defense Logistics Agency and the EPA have reached an agreement that allows the transfer of excess equipment to continue for both law enforcement and firefighting agencies," US. EPA Region 6 press officer Patrick Mackin said. Region 6 covers North Texas.

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