Excess to the rescue

By Jeff Landenberger DLA Disposition Services

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Equipment from DLA Disposition Services helped save lives as Nebraska recently faced its worst flooding of the past 50 years.

The state’s forestry service participation in the DOD Firefighter program dates back to its 2006 creation. Equipment Nebraska accumulated from DLA in those past 13 years to help battle wildfires has now been used to conduct high water rescue operations.

As water rose, vehicles with high ground clearances helped reach those stranded. Excess military vehicles had the ground clearance needed and were pressed into water rescue service by firefighters.

Nebraska Forest Service Fire Equipment Manager Lewis Sieber oversees the disbursal of the equipment in Nebraska. His official job title has enough acronyms to make a Pentagon staffer smile.

“Here in the state, I am known as the guy that gets old military trucks and federal pieces of equipment for volunteer firefighters to use,” said Sieber, who oversees the state’s maintenance shop that ensures vehicles are mechanically ready to issue out.

A few vehicles had yet to be picked up from his shop when the water started raising.

Knowing people were already stranded and lives would soon be at risk, Sieber took a six-wheeled drive cargo truck out – the high clearance made it an ideal platform for navigating flood waters.

“It was an interesting day: I hauled 59 people, 49 dogs, three cats, some kind of rat in a cage, and a bird,” Sieber said.

For the next three days, he drove the truck, pulling people and their pets out of the water.

The danger was real and that fact was driven home when one department lost two excess military trucks to flood waters. No one was hurt, but the trucks are expected to be a total loss.

Departments across the state contact Sieber when they need a truck. He starts by having a conversation with them to find out what they need. They discuss the type of rig they are looking for, perhaps a grass fire truck or a tanker to haul water.

One of the requirements they talk about is ground clearance.

Sieber then coordinates with the U.S. Forest Service. The service knows forests and the needs of firefighters better than DoD, and they can help ensure equipment goes to where it can do the most good.  

The USFS has 47 states and island governments that participate in the excess military property program.

Once Sieber’s Nebraska shop is finished with the truck, it’s up to the fire department to get it ready for service.

“Their job is to paint it any color as long as it’s not OD Green, desert tan or camouflage, equip it, insure it, use it, take care of it and when they are done, just give it back,” Sieber said.

Of the 486 volunteer fire districts in Nebraska, Sieber said he has about 850 pieces of equipment issued out to more than 300 of them.

Each year, he gives a report to the head of the Nebraska Forest Service. In that report is a replacement cost for all the excess equipment that came from DLA Disposition Services. The last report put the replacement cost in excess of $90 million.

According to Melissa Frey, the program’s manager for the USDA Forest Service, in fiscal 2018 nationwide there were more than 6,000 acquisitions with a value in excess of $167 million. 

“The USDA Forest Service and the Defense Logistics Agency are committed to assisting state forestry agencies and firefighters throughout the nation in acquiring excess DoD property for the purpose of firefighting and emergency medical response,” Frey said.

“Citizens not only benefit in the life and property saving operations due to this cooperation, but an unidentifiable amount of taxpayers’ dollars have been saved,” Frey said. “Without this program, many volunteer fire departments would not have the equipment needed to perform their mission.”