A reverse EPA ruling means fire departments in rural Nebraska can continue to use military surplus trucks. On June 19, the EPA said the trucks were unfit to be reused because they didn't meet emissions standards, but that ruling was overturned.
A vital part of rural fire fighting, the military trucks offer features standard trucks don't. Osceola Fire Chief Toby Watts said, "They're just set up for heavy duty use. Like our 6x6 that we got allows us to get out into the fields. Thank goodness for the heavy duty military vehicles, we can save money, but it also helps us get to tough places, muddy roads, things like that."
The Osceola Fire Department is just one of many departments who rely on these vehicles.
Fire Equipment Manager Lew Sieber said, "I am here to help these fire departments. We have over 500 trucks in the field right now in over 250 different fire districts. I can list a half dozen fire districts that are exclusively equipped with only our equipment because that's all they can afford."
For the Polk Fire Department, the overturned ruling lifted a weight off their shoulders. Polk Assistant Fire Chief Pat McNaught said, "To be quite honest, we're very relieved. Ultimately for our rural fire department it comes down to dollars. Any means that are available to us to upgrade and continually upgrade our fleet at a reduced cost ultimately benefits taxpayers."
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.