Rural fire depts. breathe sigh of relief after nation-wide program is reinstated

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BRYAN & MARSHALL CO., Okla. -- Rural fire departments across the United States are breathing a sigh of relief after a program that gives excess military equipment to the departments has been reinstated.

"The [Environmental Protection Agency] started trying to enforce what we understand to be a very old regulation -- or agreement they had with [Department of Defense]."

"Under the agreement, vehicles not meeting EPA emission standards would be destroyed instead of sold. It is unclear why the agreement is being enforced at this time," reads a statement from Oklahoma Forestry Services.

But after an outcry from elected officials over the importance of the program, it was brought back to life just last week after it was shutdown for about a month.

In Oklahoma, nearly 9,000 trucks and pieces of military equipment have been distributed to rural fire departments state-wide. The value of all that equipment sits at over $150 million, according to Oklahoma Forestry Services.

The only money the fire departments put toward the DoD equipment is used to transform it into a fire department vehicle.

"The fire department will invest 20, 30, 40 thousand dollars of their own money into it, and when they get done they have a truck that otherwise would have cost them 150, 250 thousand dollars to purchase," Cecil Mackey, rural fire coordinator at the Southern Oklahoma Development Association, said.

Mackey acts as one of the middle man in the process of getting the trucks and equipment to the rural fire departments. He oversees 10 counties in southern Oklahoma, stretching from Carter to Atoka, and Bryan to Pontotoc.

His job, he said, is to assess the needs of the rural fire departments in his area of the state and work to get the departments what they request.

Then, once the excess DoD equipment is distributed, Mackey checks back in with the departments to make sure the equipment is brought up to fire department standards -- like new paint, sirens and lights.

One of those departments he oversees, he said, is in Kingston.

Kingston Fire Chief James Kuykendall said he is grateful for the program and relieved it will continue.

"We were definitely concerned about it in the future because we are always having to upgrade and replace vehicles," Kuykendall said.

Kingston has received several pieces of equipment through the program, like a tanker truck that helps fight brush fires, which is the majority of the calls the department responds to.

"We are trained for structural fires, we are equipped for structural fires, but the majority of what we work are grass fires, brush fires."

Mackey said the program alleviates financial burdens placed on these rural departments, which can't afford brand new equipment.