In January, the Rock Creek Fire Protection District in Kimberly, Idaho, received a 2003 Pierce Ladder Truck through the Department of Defense Firefighter Property Program, free of cost. This apparatus would typically cost around $1.3 million new or around $500,000 used.
This program involves procuring surplus property from the DOD and distributing it to local agencies. The U.S. Forest Service oversees it, and the Department of Lands runs the Idaho program.
“The original acquisition cost or value of the property acquired is over $60 million since 2013,” said Pat Brown, Eastern Area manager for the Idaho Department of Lands. “The military uses everything that we use in the civilian world, so they have commercially built fire apparatus like the ladder truck that we got for Rock Creek. And under that program, we acquire the property for a fire department; we transfer it to them. They have one year to get it into service … Then once it has been in service for one full year, then they get free and clear ownership of it.”
The Rock Creek Fire Protection District serves approximately 212 square miles in eastern Twin Falls County and northwestern Cassia County. The department consists of Fire Chief Aaron Zent, seven full-time firefighters, four part-time employees and 28 volunteers. Like many rural fire departments, Rock Creek didn’t have the budget for an apparatus of this cost.
“We’re fortunate for us to not have to come up with that kind of money,” said Zent. “This truck is a great truck that fills a lot of needs. It is a 105-foot ladder truck that has a basket on it, which can be used for many different purposes, whether that’s rescuing people who are on a second-story window or it can be used for ventilation on one-story, two-story houses or commercial buildings. It also has a water cannon on top of it that sprays 1,000 gallons every minute. We didn’t have anything that had the capabilities to do that before this truck, nor did we have a ladder … so this fills a huge void for the department.”
This particular truck was stationed at Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Once the Department of Defense pulled the truck out of service, IDL was able to claim it for Rock Creek. According to Zent, the department had been on a waiting list for around two years before getting the call that they could go pick up their new truck.
“We went to check out the apparatus, just to find out what condition it was in, whether we could drive it home or whether we’d have to hire a semi to have it towed home,” explained Zent. “When we checked it out, it was in great condition. It had very, very low miles and was actually in much better condition than we thought it would be. So we jumped in the truck and drove it home. Really the only thing it needed was a tank of gas.”
Besides the tank of gas, Zent estimates the department will have to put a maximum of $10,000 worth of equipment into the truck, including a fire hose, to get it up and running. From there, it will take some time to train all employees on how to properly use the truck as the department hasn’t had a ladder truck in the past.
The goal is to have the truck completely outfitted and the staff trained by July 1.
“IDL did a great job on securing the truck for us,” said Zent. “Without the help of the Idaho Department of Lands, this would not have been possible.”
The Rock Creek Fire Protection District isn’t the only department to receive a ladder truck recently through this program. The Gooding Rural Fire Department received a truck in February and the Burley Fire Department received one in 2020.
The Department of Defense Firefighter Property Program provides departments with everything from office chairs and stretchers to even cargo trucks that can be retrofitted into a firefighting apparatus. The high-ticket items like ladder trucks are in less supply and can be harder to claim. In a normal year, the IDL claims around 15 to 20 trucks of varying types.
“For commercial apparatus, there’s a long waiting list. For military trucks, like a 5-ton cargo truck or a 2 1/2-ton cargo truck, those come through the system fairly often and in pretty good condition,” said Brown.
The Department of Defense Firefighter Property Program is a national program, and each state can choose to participate. Departments wanting to participate in this program should contact their state’s natural resource management division or department and ask if they have a federal excess personal property program.
“The states that do participate — and the bulk of them do, I believe — they want participation from local fire departments,” said Brown. “As a community, it’s vital. We all have a responsibility to help each other in my mind. Local government entities, the volunteer fire departments, those are all a subunit of the state of Idaho. Whatever we can do to build up those emergency response resources helps all of us.”