Rural Fire Departments In Jeopardy After Federal Program Cut

Wednesday, July 2nd 2014, 8:00 pm
By: News 9

Rural fire departments across the state could now be in jeopardy after a federal program, that provides millions of dollars' worth of equipment, has been cut off.

The federal program has saved cities hundreds of thousands of dollars, but now that's over for every station in America.

"There are departments that will not survive," Guthrie Fire Chief Erick Harlow said.

Survival as a firefighter requires strategy, instincts and equipment.

"That truck is critical, because it holds our water," Chief Harlow said.

The truck Harlow is referring to holds 1,500 gallons of water, a significant upgrade from what the department had just two years ago. The upgrade was thanks to federal programs, that through the state, provided Guthrie with two army surplus trucks, a savings of over $400,000 dollars for the city. Now, those programs have been unexpectedly cut.

"It caught all of us across the U.S. by surprise," Oklahoma State Forester George Geissler said.

Geissler, who scans the equipment before issuing them to stations, knows Chief Harlow depends on the state's Rural Fire Assistance Program, but Harlow isn't the only one. Geissler counts over 8,800 pieces of equipment are in use across the state, totaling $150 million dollars all from the federal level for free.

"We have over 800 volunteer fire departments across the state," said Geissler. "For them, this is the backbone of their equipment."

The reason behind the cut is vehicle emission standards the Department of Defense and the EPA agreed to 25 years ago, but to Chief Harlow, that's no reason to risk property and lives.

"Devastating is all I can say," Harlow added.

Geissler is now calling on officials at the state and federal levels to reverse the cut.

In August, Guthrie residents will be voting on two sales taxes that will benefit the fire department, and Chief Harlow said passing both is more critical than ever.