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July 2, 2014

Government stops sending surplus equipment to fire departments

(Continued)

OKLAHOMA CITY — One example is the Little Axe Volunteer Fire Department, which received a tanker through the program, said Chief Allen Schneider. The department serves 4,500 residents west of Shawnee and has an annual budget of about $47,000.

Schneider said getting a truck through the program saved nearly $150,000.

“That’s a lot of years in my budget to pay for one truck,” he said, adding that a decision to end the program is “ludicrous.”

“That’s going to impact a lot of people,” said Schneider, noting that his department is well supplied for now. “I know there are a lot of departments out there that actually rely on them. This is going to hurt them immensely.”

In a statement, the National Association of State Foresters said the federal program delivered more than $150 million each year in equipment to be used by state and local departments throughout the country. Ending the program increases the risk of lost lives and property, it said, and inflates the costs of fighting wildfire.

“For many small departments, federal excess equipment may be the only equipment they can afford," the group said.

Mike Honigsberg, director of emergency management for Enid and Garfield County, said a dozen rural departments in his area are supported by a sales tax. But he criticized the decision to stop the surplus program as another intrusion by the federal government into local affairs.

“They’ll hurt some departments out there,” he said.

Instead, Geissler said the federal government will send surplus vehicles — even those with only 1,000 miles — to depots and supply yards to be crushed or scraped.

“This was an alternative to just crushing them,” he said. “This was all this equipment that had useful life. It allowed rural fire departments and those out in rural areas to provide for wildland fire defense. It gives these vehicles that still have a useful purpose kind of that second lease on life.”

Geissler said state officials are working with the state's congressional delegation in hopes of finding a solution.

 

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