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July 3, 2014

Government stops sending surplus federal vehicles, stock to rural fire departments

OKLAHOMA CITY — Trucks, tankers and other unused federal vehicles are a critical aid to rural fire departments throughout the country, but the supply of surplus rolling stock now appears to have dried up.

The federal government has ended a program that provides millions of dollars worth of equipment to thousands of rural fire departments, including nearly 800 in Oklahoma, said George Geissler, state director of forestry services.

The U.S. Department of Defense ended the program when it recently decided to enforce a 25-year-old agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency, Geissler said.

Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, said her agency received informal notice that the Defense Department was upholding the agreement after it was determined that engines in its vehicles did not meet EPA standards.

The Forest Service acts as an intermediary between the federal agencies and about 48 states that use the surplus equipment program.

As of Tuesday, rural Oklahoma fire departments were using 8,812 pieces of federal surplus equipment valued at $150 million, said Geissler. Each year the state receives $13 million to $15 million worth of equipment, which is then distributed to a waiting list of departments in need.

Few details were available about what the shutdown means for equipment already distributed to departments across the state. A spokeswoman for a Defense Department surplus program said Tuesday that she was not aware of any changes.

One of the surplus program’s biggest benefits is that it provides vehicles that would normally cost a small fire department $150,000 to $200,000.

Instead departments only have to equip the vehicle, at a cost of $30,000 to $40,000.

“The cost to all these fire departments would go up astronomically,” Geissler said. “There are a lot of departments out there that are not going to be able to afford this. They serve small areas — small, rural communities — and to get a piece of equipment like we’re talking about, they’re just not going to be able to afford it.”

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