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July 2, 2014

Government stops sending surplus equipment to fire departments

(Continued)

Oklahoma City —

   Few details were available about what the shutdown means for equipment already distributed to departments across the state. A spokeswoman for a Defense Department surplus program said Tuesday that she was not aware of any changes.

   One of the surplus program's biggest benefits is that it provides vehicles that would normally cost a small fire department $150,000 to $200,000.

   Instead, departments only have to equip the vehicle, at a cost of $30,000 to $40,000.

   “The cost to all these fire departments would go up astronomically,” Geissler said. “There are a lot of departments out there that are not going to be able to afford this. They serve small areas — small, rural communities — and to get a piece of equipment like we’re talking about, they’re just not going to be able to afford it.”

   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.

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