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July 15, 2014

Military restores fire equipment program

Diesel vehicles to come under national security exemption

INDIANAPOLIS — An agreement has been reached to keep surplus military equipment rolling into rural fire department bays.

The Department of Defense announced Wednesday that it’s resuming a popular program that provided rolling stock, engines and other equipment to small, financially strapped fire departments in 48 states, including Indiana.

The program was halted recently after concerns arose that the diesel engines in the aging surplus equipment didn’t meet current federal air quality standards.

After an outcry from firefighters nationwide and pressure from Congress, federal officials decide to resume the program by allowing fire departments to come under a “national security” exemption granted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for military equipment used to defend the nation.

Details of the new agreement had yet to be released to Indiana officials who administer the military surplus program. They’re wary of the possible new restrictions on the program, but heartened by the news that it had been restarted.

“This is a critical program for volunteer fire departments around the state,” said Darren Bridges, the assistant state fire coordinator for the Indiana Department of Natural Resources. “Firefighters absolutely rely on this equipment.”

More than 250 volunteer fire departments in Indiana have received about $12 million in surplus military equipment that otherwise would have been sent to depots and supply yards to be crushed or scrapped.

Much of the equipment consists of heavy-duty vehicles that are retrofitted as fire trucks. New trucks can cost up to $150,000, which is beyond most volunteer fire departments’ budgets.

The U.S. EPA issued a brief statement Wednesday, saying it had come to an agreement with the Defense Department’s Defense Logistics Agency to restart the program.

Neither agency offered much detail on the new conditions placed on the program. But a DLA spokesman acknowledged that fire departments would have to work with the state to return the equipment to the military, rather than sell it as surplus, once the equipment reaches the end of its lifespan.

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