Clay County firefighting equipment in jeopardy

by: Lorena Incl\u00E1n Updated:

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GREEN COVE SPRINGS, Fla. - When a wildfire strikes, huge military-grade diesel powered red tankers are on the front lines in Clay County. 

Fire Station 15 in Green Cove Springs has one of hundreds of trucks the federal government gave to the Florida Forest Service through a military surplus program. The state agency then loans them out to rural and volunteer fire stations where funding is limited. 

After years of firefighters relying on the equipment, the federal government is now saying the vehicles don't meet Environmental Protection Agency standards and should be destroyed. 

Florida Forest Service Director Jim Karels said the state has relied on the program for the past 29 years. 

"To the Florida Forest Service, they're critical. That type of equipment we can't get anywhere else," said Karels. The red tanker stored at Station 15 can hold 3,500 gallons of water.

In case of a wildfire, it can easily cut through rough terrain and bring crews the water they need in areas without fire hydrants. The equipment is that much more important for residents like Jill Leggett whose home is feet away from Jennings State Forest. 

"When it's an emergency response vehicle, I don't care what its emissions are," said Leggett. 

After pressure from several senators, the federal government back-pedaled on the issue while still imposing restrictions.  

In a statewide editorial, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said, "Not only will firefighters now have to track each piece of equipment and send it back for destruction, departments will be wary to invest in refurbishing this expensive equipment knowing the feds could take back their ‘lease’ at any moment." 

"As of right now they're safe but it's day to day. We don't know exactly what's going to happen," said Karels. 

According to Karels, getting rid of the vehicles would do more harm than good. He said just one wildfire is more harmful to the environment than the emissions the vehicles emit getting to the fire.

Rural and volunteer fire departments could be left without a replacement if the trucks are taken away because they are too expensive to replace, according to Karels. 

The Florida Forest Service said it needs congressional support to keep the program the way it is.