Act today to fix government firefighting blunder

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Rick Markley, FR1 Editor-in-chief

Our federal government has done something dumb. Cynicism aside, can we expect something as unwieldy as our government to do things for an outcome where the perceived good outweighs the unintended damage?

It happened not too long ago when volunteer fire departments nearly got caught up in the Affordable Care Act's mandatory health insurance requirement for employees net. The latest slip up also impacts volunteer departments disproportionately.

In this round of "good intentions gone bad," the Department of Defense began enforcing a 25-year-old agreement it has with the Environmental Protection Agency to destroy surplus vehicles that don't meet emission standards. The agreement had gone unenforced until now.

If this sounds wasteful, it is.

More importantly, many fire departments rely on surplus military vehicles. These free, or nearly free, trucks are converted into water-hauling and wildland firefighting vehicles.

Technically, there are two programs in question: Federal Excess Personal Property and Firefighter Property Program. It's estimated that annually between 2008 and 2012, there was $150 million worth of decommissioned DoD equipment that finds a second life fighting fire.

There is no shortage of arguments against this move. The fires would likely pollute more than the trucks. Destroying needed equipment is bad fiscal and environmental policy. Firefighters without equipment save less lives. And the list goes on.

Again, mistakes happen, especially in something as large as the U.S. government. What counts most is that they are quickly rectified.

To that end, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) is circulating a letter among his colleagues seeking a reinstatement of DoD's program. The deadline to urge your senators to sign the letter is today. You can do so at this National Volunteer Fire Council action alert link.

Even if you miss today's deadline, it is still worth making your voice heard. As the Affordable Care Act snafu taught us, even obvious and necessary change at the federal level takes time and persistence.

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