Stillwater News Press

Our View

July 10, 2014

OUR VIEW: Rural fire departments in need

STILLWATER, Okla. — Rural fire departments may be able to obtain surplus military vehicles and equipment, after all.

Reports indicate the EPA and Pentagon apparently have reversed their decision to stop providing surplus military vehicles and equipment to rural fire departments, but details of the new agreement haven’t been finalized.

Oklahoma’s rural fire departments use nearly 9,000 surplus military vehicles and equipment to fight fires every year. The vehicles and equipment are valued at $150 million and were acquired through the Federal Excess Personal Property and Firefighter Property Program.

Rural fire departments usually are staffed by volunteers and have limited budgets for vehicles and equipment. The departments have relied on these programs for more than 20 years.

Oklahoma’s rural fire departments often are first responders during a wildfire. Since 2004, at least 80 Oklahomans have died, 300,000 acres have burned and 800 homes were destroyed by wildfires.

In August 2010, approximately 2,000 acres were burned when a wildfire raced from northeast Stillwater to Glencoe. Area rural fire departments and the Stillwater Fire Department worked side by side to control the blaze that eventually destroyed more than 20 homes.

This EPA and Pentagon must rethink this decision, which also doesn’t make sense for environmental reasons.

Wildfires harm the environment, producing carbon emissions and other toxins into the air.

In all likelihood, one large wildfire produces more carbon emissions than the surplus vehicles that operate only as needed to fight fires in rural communities.

Gov. Mary Fallin agrees. She has sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, telling the agency that more acres will be burned and more home destroyed if the decision wasn’t reversed.

“I am therefore requesting you immediately reverse course and once again allow Oklahoma’s rural fire departments access to surplus military equipment that will otherwise go unused,” Fallin wrote.

We hope the EPA and Pentagon have come to their senses and fully restore these programs.

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