Mikulski and Bipartisan Group of Senators Call on Defense Department to Release Surplus Military Equipment to Firefighters Responding to Natural Disasters

July 11, 2014

WASHINGTONU.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) along with Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) and a bipartisan group of 23 additional Senators today announced that they have sent a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel calling on the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to reverse its freeze on the transfer of surplus military equipment to fire departments, law enforcement and other first responders.  

"First responders and their families already understand the hazards of being on the job, whether it is battling horrific natural disasters, rushing into burning buildings, or suffering from physical exhaustion and injury. They protect our homes and communities, and the federal government has a responsibility to protect our protectors by providing them with the tools they need to do their jobs safer and smarter," Senator Mikulski said. "Ensuring states have the needed equipment to respond to disasters through surplus military equipment is a common sense measure that saves money and saves lives. I will continue to stand sentry to ensure our firefighters have a government on their side and by their side."  

DoD announced last week that it would bar the transfer of trucks, generators, humvees, and other diesel-powered equipment because they might not meet federal emissions standards. This decision was a reversal of decades of past policy where such equipment was granted a national security exemption by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). DoD has announced a partial lifting of the freeze, but concerns remain among first responder organizations that the agreement does not guarantee the long-term use of these vehicles and does not cover a number of items under the Federal Excess Personal Property Program (FEPP). The senators are asking for a full explanation of DoD's rationale for the freeze and for a plan to correct the transfer restriction as soon as possible.  

"In order to fight these fires – firefighter must have the proper tools and equipment such as trucks, pumps, and generators, other equipment and protection all of which are very costly. The ability of the Defense Department to provide surplus military equipment is fully justified, needed, a cost savings, and logical to do so," said Montgomery County Volunteer Fire Rescue Association President Marcine Goodloe. "The full assistance of our government is needed to insure that the critical equipment and protection is provided to the fire, rescue, and emergency service in order that they can continue to save lives and property, as well as to protect their lives."  

"Fire Departments across the U.S. are dependent on the FPP/FEPP programs to provide excess yet serviceable vehicles and equipment to meet their basic needs. Many of these units are modified for use in meeting the unique challenges of wildland firefighting and save local departments millions of dollars each year by being able to take advantage of these programs. Without these programs, many local departments could not afford and would not possess the equipment necessary to meet these challenges," said Maryland Coordination and Analysis Center Analyst David Lewis. "This is a win-win for everybody as government excess is not gone to waste but is reutilized to save local departments and their taxpayers millions of dollars each year for vehicle and apparatus replacement."  

"On behalf of the National Volunteer Fire Council, I'd like to thank Senator Mikulski for her leadership in contacting Secretary Hagel to try to get this situation fixed," said National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) Chairman Philip C. Stittleburg. "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. Local fire departments must have ready access to the vehicles and equipment that they need to fight wildfire. Wednesday's announcement that equipment transfers can be continued is a positive development but there is still a lot of uncertainty."  

In addition to Senators Mikulski and McCain, the letter is signed by Senators James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Michael F. Bennett (D-Colo), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), John Boozman (R-Ark.), Jon Tester (D.Mont.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Mark L. Pryor (D-Ark.), Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Susan M. Collins (R-Maine), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Daniel Coats (R-Ind.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Thad Cochran (R. Miss.), and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).  

The full text of the letter to Secretary Hagel follows:  

July 10, 2014  

The Honorable Chuck Hagel
Secretary
U.S. Department of Defense
1300 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1300  

Dear Secretary Hagel:  

It has come to our attention that the Department of Defense (DoD), citing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recently interrupted the transfer of surplus military equipment to states and local governments that are used for firefighting, natural disaster mitigation and relief, and law enforcement. We are deeply concerned that this decision was made during the peak of wildfire season.   

We understand that there may be confusion within DoD and EPA over the interpretation of regulations barring the transfer of federal vehicles that don't meet certain emission standards. As a result, the U.S. Army's Tank and Automotive Command (TACOM) and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) announced last week that they were unable to transfer trucks to the U.S Department of Agriculture Forest Service for loan to state forestry organizations under the Federal Excess Personal Property Program (FEPP) and the Firefighter Property Program (FPP). Every year, these two programs supply local firefighting agencies with over $150 million in excess federal equipment like trucks, pumps, generators, and engine parts. For many small and rural fire departments, federal excess equipment may be the only equipment they can afford. So far this year, 83% of all wildfires have been responded to by state and local fire agencies, most of which were on federal lands.  

We see no justification for government red-tape to stand in the way of helping first responders get the equipment they need to respond to wildland fires, floods, and other natural disasters. While we understand that DoD and EPA may be close to resolving this issue, we respectfully request that you provide us with your specific course of action for rescinding the restrictions placed on both the FEPP and FPP programs and clarify any vehicle title concerns raised by state foresters and law enforcement agencies.  

Sincerely,  

Barbara A. Mikulski, United States Senator
John McCain, United States Senator
James Inhofe, United States Senator
John Barrasso, United States Senator
Jeff Flake, United States Senator
Michael Bennet, United States Senator
Jerry Moran, United States Senator
Tom Harkin, United States Senator
Mike Johanns, United States Senator
Jeanne Shaheen, United States Senator
Chuck Grassley, United States Senator
Joe Manchin, United States Senator
John Boozman, United States Senator
Jon Tester, United States Senator
John Cornyn, United States Senator
Mark Pryor, United States Senator
Mike Enzi, United States Senator
Mark Udall, United States Senator
Susan Collins, United States Senator
Deb Fischer, United States Senator
Tim Scott, United States Senator
Daniel Coats, United States Senator
Lindsey Graham, United States Senator
Thad Cochran, United States Senator
Kelly Ayotte, United States Senator