HARVEY – The regional office coordinating Department of Natural Resources forest fire prevention efforts across the Upper Peninsula looks like a used Army depot.
Retired gear, primarily from the military, sits patiently in the back lot, waiting for the attention of DNR mechanics.
That includes troop transport trucks at least 50 years old, ones now painted a shiny red and used as wildland fire engines.
“We’ve got ‘deuce and a halfs’ dating back as far as the Korean War,” said DNR forest fire officer Jeff Noble, slapping one on the fender.
“This one here started as a normal Army 6-by-6. Down in the Roscommon equipment center, they’re … transforming what’s basically a chassis and a cab and turning it into a fire engine.”
State agencies act as a clearinghouse for surplus vehicles included in the Federal Excess Property Program. In Roscommon, engineers and mechanics modify the vehicles loaned to the DNR, sending them to regional offices. Local fire departments borrow equipment from the DNR, making their own modifications, adding tanks and pumps and paint jobs.
“We supply equipment to many township and tribal firefighting agencies,” Noble said. “You have to have a cooperative agreement with us to participate, but there are only a few (local) departments that don’t.”
Champion Township’s assistance proved to be a key during the 1999 Tower Lake fire, which charred more than 5,000 acres leading in and around the township. The township’s DNR wildfire engine was a common sight out on the fire lines then, and has been since the 1970s, according to township Supervisor Berle LaPin.
“Definitely they’ve been helpful for whenever we can’t get a normal engine out somewhere we can use it. It’s very handy, especially this time of year when we’re out in the backwoods,” LaPin said. “It’s a good rigging to have. The guys fabricated a tank that we put on it and we just put the tank (on) every time we get a replacement. We’ve had two or three since the ’70s.”
Under the program, a township “trades in” the gear when it’s ready for a newer piece of equipment. The township pays for insurance and any modifications it wants to add. The vehicle remains the property of the DNR.
“It’s the DNR’s, but we’re the ones that use it. They check on it once or twice a year,” said LaPin, noting that he’d rather see the vehicle in the garage. “We hope we don’t have to use it, but when we do, we’ve got to.”