The Herald Bulletin

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Editorials

July 11, 2014

Editorial: Rural fire departments will gain from military about-face

Rural fire department struggle to get by.

Faced with increasing costs and limited if not decreasing tax bases, many Indiana departments are merging as a way to share crews and equipment.

Many departments have been lucky enough to receive tankers, trucks and other crucial equipment from the U.S. military. The Department of Defense would give about $150 million in surplus equipment to needy rural departments.

In Madison County, three mostly volunteer departments — Frankton, Adams Township/Markleville and Lapel/Stony Creek — have been recent recipients of equipment through the program.

The Department of Defense recently announced it was ending the program. Then, local fire departments across the nation, as well as the federal government, raised objections, prompting an about-race and re-institution of the program (see news article on Page A1 today).

The engines in these vehicles did not comply with government air pollution control guidelines. The Department of Defense decided to enforce a 25-year-old agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency. The agreement would have barred the sale, donation or loan of equipment with engines that fail to meet EPA standards.

The initial decision to end the program was alarming.

Most rural departments rely on volunteers to respond to emergencies. Without them, rural residents would have little protection from fires that can, as an example, spread quickly across dry farmland.

And that scenario makes the situation even more of a dilemma. Is the emission from an older engine more damaging that the loss of farms from fire? Indeed, aren't there harmful emissions from fires — particularly those that blaze out of control? Those are probably questions that can only be answered by wondering whether some environmental standards go too far. This one standard certainly does.

Rural fire departments work hard to protect their neighbors. They need every bit of help they can get, and the re-institution of the military surplus program will help.

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