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July 6, 2014

Military stops giving leftover equipment to rural firefighters

Several departments in Clark County have used the program

INDIANAPOLIS —

A government program that sent spare military trucks, tankers and other vehicles to rural fire departments throughout Indiana has dried up, potentially putting small towns and county governments on the hook for expensive, new equipment.

The U.S. Department of Defense has canceled a program that gave $150 million worth of extra equipment each year to small fire departments across the country. About $12 million worth of surplus equipment is now on loan to more than 250 volunteer fire departments in Indiana.

Engines in the vehicles did not comply with government’s air pollution control standards, according to Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, which has acted as an intermediary matching surplus vehicles with states that needed them.

The decision has alarmed Indiana officials who rely on volunteer firefighters to fight blazes that break out in homes, barns and businesses in rural areas and to quash an average of 2,700 wildland fires that ignite in the state each year.

“Not allowing the ex-military equipment to be used will have a devastating impact on the firefighting community and the homes and landowners served by these departments,” said John Seifert, director of the state Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Forestry.

“A number of rural volunteer fire departments rely solely on this type of excess property for wildland fire protection,” he said.

The Department of Natural Resources has a waiting list of needy departments that want the equipment, which instead will be sent to depots and supply yards to be crushed or scraped.

Some volunteer firefighters are already worried about the implications of the decision, saying there is no way they can raise the money to buy the equipment on their own. 

One of the program's biggest benefits was to provide vehicles to small departments that would otherwise spend $150,000 to $200,000 to buy them. Instead those departments only had to equip the vehicles — at a cost of $30,000 to $40,000.

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