Rep. Sanders: Pressure Needed to Undo Blow to Rural Fire Departments

OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Mike Sanders is joining the efforts of the Oklahoma Congressional delegation, Gov. Mary Fallin and other officials to reverse a decision to end a Department of Defense (DoD) program that provides vehicles and equipment to rural fire departments.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for rural communities to be struck such a blow from the federal government in order to reduce greenhouse emissions,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “Our rural firefighters are the first responders to most major wildfires and accidents. They are stretched thin as it is and cannot afford to face further difficulties.”

An old agreement between the DoD and the Environmental Protection Agency is finally being executed, meaning excess DoD vehicles that are critical to rural fire departments’ ability to fight wildland fires will no longer be available.

Through two long-standing federal excess property programs, Federal Excess Personal Property (FEPP) and Firefighter Property program (FPP), Oklahoma Forestry Services has been able to assist rural fire departments by providing no-cost military trucks that are then re-manufactured into wildland engines and water tenders through its Rural Fire Assistance Program. Without access to the vehicles and other equipment, many rural fire departments will find it difficult to operate, as commercial trucks are cost prohibitive for most departments.  Currently there are 8,812 vehicle and pieces of equipment, valued at over $150 million, being utilized by Oklahoma’s rural fire departments.

The stoppage decision by the US Army Tank-Automotive Command (TACOM) is based in an old agreement between the DoD and EPA aimed at reducing emissions. Under the agreement, vehicles not meeting EPA emission standards would be destroyed instead of sold.

“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, Oklahoma Forestry Services. “The greenhouse gas emissions associated with the vehicles are marginal at best compared to emissions of an uncontrolled wildfire.”

Local fire departments are the first to respond to most to most wildfires.  In many states, including Oklahoma, local departments are first on the scene for more than 75 percent of all wildfires. Quick initial response protects lives, property and reduces fire suppression costs for local, state and federal entities.

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