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Inhofe secures equipment deal for rural firefighters

WASHINGTON _ Sen. Jim Inhofe has brokered a deal to allow rural fire departments continued access to surplus military vehicles that don’t meet Environmental Protection Agency emission standards.

Inhofe, R-Tulsa, began working with the EPA and the Department of Defense after The Oklahoman reported last week rural firefighters would no longer be able to use the vehicles. Gov. Mary Fallin was also involved in talks with the agency.

George Geissler, director for Oklahoma Forestry Services, said the loss of access to the vehicles would result in increased exposure to loss of life and property and increased fire suppression costs.

Inhofe, who is a high-ranking member of the committees that oversee the EPA and the Defense Department, enlisted other lawmakers in the effort to keep the program alive.

The Defense Logistics Agency released a statement Wednesday saying that _ after discussions with the EPA _ it will “immediately resume issuing military vehicles and equipment with an associated national security exemption to authorized law enforcement agencies and to DoD Fire Fighter Program recipients.

“EPA has confirmed that equipment transferred to law enforcement and fire-fighting agencies through these programs will continue to be covered by any (National Security Exemption) previously issued by EPA, with the understanding that DLA retains title to the vehicles and appropriate inventory and other management controls remain in effect.”

The restrictions weren’t the result of a new EPA policy but, rather, the decision by the Defense Department to begin complying with a longstanding policy.

Inhofe said the agreement announced Wednesday would involve more red tape for the fire departments.

He said, “I applaud the DOD and EPA for coming to an agreement on a 25-year-old rule that the Department of Defense (DOD) recently decided to start enforcing to the detriment of a program supporting our Oklahoma’s local fire departments and their ability to fight wildfires.

“This quick resolution would not have been possible without the rapid criticism from many members of Congress and the coordinated effort with Governor Fallin’s office.

“Today the agencies decided to extend the national security exemption for this vital program on the grounds that the vehicles’ titles remain under DOD after being repurposed in order to ensure the vehicles are eventually destroyed. This new agreement will create more red tape for our local fire departments by requiring the roughly 17,000 pieces of surplus equipment around the state to now be tracked and returned once they are no longer in use.

“This is the best short term answer to maintain the program with the DOD, and I will be working with the colleagues to address the unnecessary regulation created by the agreement. “

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Chris Casteel

Chris Casteel began working for The Oklahoman's Norman bureau in 1982 while a student at the University of Oklahoma. Casteel covered the police beat, federal courts and the state Legislature in Oklahoma City. From 1990 through 2016, he was the... Read more ›