In June, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) halted the transfer of excess military vehicles and equipment to state foresters and local fire departments to fight wildland fire. The Federal Excess Personal Property (FEPP) and Firefighter Property Program (FFP) were suspended because the used vehicles do not meet federal emissions standards. The National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) is calling for an immediate fix to the situation.
“The FEPP and FFP Programs are lifelines that make it possible for the volunteer fire service to be this nation’s first line of defense against wildland fire, providing 80 percent of the initial attack,” said National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) Chairman Philip C. Stittleburg. “Local fire departments must have ready access to the vehicles and equipment that they need to fight wildfire.”
On July 10, 25 U.S. Senators sent a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking for the resumption of FEPP and FFP. The NVFC issued an action alert to our members on July 7 calling on them to contact their congressional representatives to encourage them to sign onto the letter, which asks Secretary Hagel to explain his decision to halt equipment transfers and to provide a specific course of action to correct the situation as soon as possible.
On July 9 the DoD Defense Logistics Agency (DLA), which transfers the excess vehicles to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Forest Service for distribution to the state and local level, issued the following statement:
“Following discussions with the EPA, the DLA will immediately resume issuing military vehicles and equipment with an association national security exemption (NSE) to authorized law enforcement agencies and to DoD Fire Fighter Program recipients. EPA has confirmed that equipment transferred to law enforcement and fire-fighting agencies through these programs will continue to be covered by any NSE previously issued by EPA, with the understanding that DLA retains title to the vehicles and appropriate inventory and other management controls remain in effect.””
Several hours after the DLA announcement, the USDA Forest Service communicated to stakeholders, including the NVFC, that FEPP is still suspended for the time being. The announcement by DLA will allow for a resumption of FFP but would require substantial changes to how that program works. For instance, FFP has always allowed for the transfer ownership of used equipment but under the terms announced by DLA, they will retain the title to the transferred vehicles and maintain inventory and other management controls.
“Yesterday’s announcement that equipment transfers can be continued is a positive development but there is still a lot of uncertainty,” said Chairman Stittleburg. “The programs are not back online yet and the longer this drags out the harder it is for local agencies.”