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July 10, 2014

Military restores equipment program for fire departments

OKLAHOMA CITY — The military will continue sending millions of dollars in surplus equipment to rural fire departments, though with new conditions that one Oklahoma official says could make the process more complicated.

The Department of Defense will continue the popular program, which provides rolling stock, engines and other equipment to fire departments in 48 states, according to an announcement issued Wednesday afternoon by Sen. James Inhofe’s office. Inhofe is the ranking Republican member of the U.S. Senate’s Armed Services Committee.

 Inhofe’s statement called the revived program, with new requirements, “the best short-term answer to maintain the program.”

 Mark Goeller, assistant forestry services director, said Wednesday that the new requirements are unacceptable. He said he’s happy action has been taken but displeased with the outcome.

Under the revised program, the equipment now must be returned to the military the end of its lifespan, he said.

Currently, the state sells old surplus property at auction, then returns proceeds to the federal government. Now, thousands of pieces of old equipment must be returned.

Goeller said there’s been no word on how long the state must store equipment until federal authorities retrieve it, or if the state must ship the equipment back to the Department of Defense. The state does not have room to hold the property long term, he said.

Inhofe’s statement said he still hopes to “address the unnecessary regulation created by the agreement.”

The Defense Department announced last week it was suspending part of the program, which is responsible for 8,812 pieces of equipment, valued at $150 million, now used by rural Oklahoma departments.

One of the program’s biggest benefits is that it provides vehicles that normally would cost a small department $150,000 to $200,000. Instead, departments need only equip the vehicle at a cost of $30,000 to $40,000.

In abandoning the program, federal officials cited a 25-year-old agreement by the Defense Department to abide by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards.

The sudden decision, which would have cost Oklahoma fire departments $13 million to $15 million a year, outraged fire officials and lawmakers, who demanded that the program be restarted. Fueling their criticism was an announcement that the government planned to destroy vehicles with engines that didn’t meet EPA emission standards.

Janelle Stecklein, Oklahoma state reporter / CNHI Capitol bureau chief

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