The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

July 2, 2014

Program extinguished

Federal government wrong to end well-intentioned program

ENID, Okla. — We reported this week that the federal government is ending a well-intentioned program that provides millions of dollars worth of equipment to thousands of rural fire departments, including nearly 800 in Oklahoma.

Rural departments often receive these hand-me-downs from other agencies. Some of this equipment is serviceable, but other times it’s suspect.

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.

Weighing the degree of harm versus the amount of good, the federal government is making a mistake here. To condemn relatively new vehicles to the scrap heap is a waste of resources.

Jennifer Jones, a spokeswoman for U.S. Forest Service, said her agency received informal notice that the Defense Department was upholding the agreement after it was determined that engines in its vehicles did not meet Environmental Protection Agency standards.

That’s a head-scratcher. These specialized vehicles are not operated eight hours a day, and thus a heavy polluter — emissions being the reason for their death sentence. Yet during the few hours a month they are needed and used as part of a volunteer firefighting effort, the need is critical.

“It is absolutely unacceptable for rural communities to be struck such a blow from the federal government in order to reduce greenhouse emissions,” said state Rep. Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “Our rural firefighters are the first responders to most major wildfires and accidents. They are stretched thin as it is and cannot afford to face further difficulties.”

How much more environmental damage is caused by manufacturing a new piece of heavy, firefighting equipment, than is being “prevented” by keeping potentially recycled vehicles from being used? Not to mention that burning fires cause a lot of pollution if they’re not extinguished.

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