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July 3, 2014

Empire fire chief says department dependent on government vehicles

DUNCAN — The Empire Volunteer Fire Department isn’t happy about a change that will stop military vehicles from being converted to firefighting vehicles for small rural communities.

Empire uses nine reconditioned military vehicles to haul water to fires, but an agreement between the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency will cut off that firefighting equipment lifeline, officials said.

About 8,812 vehicles are currently being used by rural fire departments across the state, according to the government.

A decision by the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Command to enforce an old agreement that requires vehicles that don’t meet EPA standards to be destroyed will prevent the vehicles from being donated to volunteer firefighting efforts.

 Empire Fire Chief Randall Allen said the department he leads depends on the  vehicles, which can carry about 3,500 gallons of water to control the spread of grassfires.

  Buying a tanker truck that can haul water to fight wildfires can cost up to  $185,000, he said.

“It’s going to affect most of us greatly. It affects the fire department and the community,” Allen said.

Empire recently received a 2008 model military vehicle to add to its firefighting arsenal, Allen noted.

When the  small town’s current firefighting fleet breaks down, the department won’t have the money to replace them, he said.

Duncan Deputy Fire Chief Dayton Burnside said Duncan’s Fire Department has used former military vehicles in the past.

While Duncan doesn’t use them any more, they’re a benefit to the departments that do, he said.

“It’s a much-needed, much utilized program,” Burnside said. “It’s a cost-saving measure for the departments and the community.”

State Forester and Oklahoma Forestry Services Director George Geissler said local rural fire departments are the first line of defense against wildfires.

“This action will ultimately result in increased exposure of communities to loss of life and property associated with wildfire, as well as increased fire suppression costs,” Geissler said.

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