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Rural Fire Departments Take Hit From New EPA Ruling

By: Kim Cung - Email
By: Kim Cung - Email

An agreement between the Department Of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency has some fire departments worried about the safety of people living in rural Nebraska.

The EPA is no longer allowing military trucks to be refitted for rural fire departments, which fire chiefs say could hinder their ability to put out fires and cost them thousands of dollars.

The EPA says these military trucks don't meet their emission standards, but fire chiefs across the state say being able to get these trucks for a fraction of the cost is crucial for small fire departments.

"Overall, it saves us so much money in the end. Because it's not just the military trucks, it's all the government surplus through the forestry service that saves our budget tremendously," said Toby Watts, the Osceola Volunteer Fire Department Chief.

Rural fire departments only have to pay for the cost of transporting the trucks to their department and getting them retrofitted, which costs less than $5,000. A fraction of the half-a-million-dollar price tag to buy commercial trucks new. But the money to buy a new truck isn't the only thing fire departments would lose.

"It's not only the price that's messing up things, but the off-road capabilities," said Watts.

"The great thing about this truck is we can take it anywhere. And we have some pretty rough country in our fire district. Most of the commercial trucks, wouldn't go places that this truck goes. And in fact, we were thinking about adding another truck, but as of right now, that's probably not going to happen," said Pat McNaught, the assistant fire chief in Polk.

And being able to go anywhere is just one of the positives.

"The ability of this truck to haul 25-hundred gallons of water in a rural structure fire is a pretty important capability. In rural Nebraska, we're not blessed with hydrants on every block," said McNaught.

The fire chiefs told me with the EPA's new ruling, they won't even be able to buy these trucks, if they could afford it.

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