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 cancelled 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.
Letts Community Volunteer Fire Department Chief Matt Morrow in Decatur County said the department has three decommissioned military trucks currently in use. The oldest truck, made in 1968, was slated to be replaced this year with a newer military vehicle through the now-discontinued program.
“We got that truck in 1994 and it upgraded a previous military truck we got in the early 1980s,” Chief Morrow said. “It has no seatbelts or power steering and it’s mainly used in wildland fires. We were going to use the newer truck to replace it for the upgrades of power steering and automatic transmission.”
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.