News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

July 4, 2014

‘We have such low budgets’

Many Valley firefighters rely on program for much-needed trucks

TERRE HAUTE — The Black Diamond Fire Department in Vermillion County is just one of hundreds in rural Indiana to benefit from the surplus military vehicle program now being discontinued due to emissions regulations.

Black Diamond, which is in Centenary, west of Clinton, gives fire protection to more than 50 square miles – all of it rural. Offroad vehicles are crucial for the department, which is often faced with brush fires or trash fires in difficult to reach areas, said Bryan Clover, a captain with the department.

Getting into tight spots is less of a problem thanks to a surplus pickup truck the department received about three years ago through the state’s Department of Natural Resources, which administers the federal program. The hefty 1970s-era Dodge carries 200 gallons of water, tools and other equipment for fighting fires in wooded or rural areas.

“We kind of look to [the military surplus equipment program] because of our funds,” Clover said. “It helps departments like ours because we have such low budgets.”

The Black Diamond Fire Department also has a large, “five ton” military truck it received through the program. The hulking, 10-wheel truck is ideal for getting through even the most difficult terrain, Clover said. The truck, obtained by the department within the last two years, needs to be repainted and equipped with fire equipment, but receiving it through the DNR was a huge help, he said. Purchasing such a truck would have cost thousands, he said.

More than two dozen rural fire departments in Vigo, Vermillion, Sullivan, Parke, Greene and Clay counties have benefited from the surplus equipment program. Some departments have received several items, including generators, trucks and other equipment.

The Shepardsville Fire Department in Vigo County received a useful, sturdy pickup truck about eight years ago through the program, said Fire Chief Jeff Van Lannen. The diesel truck, about 30 years old, is perfect for getting through wooded or muddy fields where it would not make sense to send a $100,000 fire truck, he said. Seen that way, these surplus trucks could be saving rural departments far more in repair and equipment cost than their market value might suggest.

The surplus trucks provided through the DNR program are “nothing fancy,” Van Lannen said. They are bare bones vehicles that departments must then equip. The pickup truck used by the Shepardsville Department includes about $10,000 of added equipment, he said.

The discontinued program was a big help to the Shepardsville Department, which operates on a tiny budget through the county. The lion’s share of its funding must come through grants and fundraisers, the chief said. Halting the program for environmental reasons would reduce emissions, but could make it tougher to reach and fight rural fires, he said. “It’s sort of a double-edged sword.”

Reporter Arthur Foulkes can be reached at 812-231-4232 or arthur.foulkes@tribstar.com.

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