From firefights to fighting fires, re-purposed firetrucks have seen it all

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MANHATTAN, Kan. (WIBW) -- Eric Ward specializes in taking old military trucks and reissuing them to fire departments in need.

“I was a Fire Chief for 20 years. When I started in that position, my department was barely adequately funded. We had equipment we desperately needed and couldn’t afford to buy. So, I fully understand what it’s like to get by without the necessities,” said Eric Ward, excess property manager for the Kansas Forest Service.

The Kansas Forest Service at Kansas State University receives used trucks and equipment from Fort Riley and other military installations through the Federal Excess Personal Property and the FireFighter Property Programs.

“When I took over this part of the program about five or six years ago, we had people that had been waiting years for a truck. It’s down to two or three months once somebody requests one,” said Ward.

While Ward tracks all of the administrative details, equipment mechanic Terry Fleming and his team, repair the trucks before issuing them out to the fire departments.

“Some of the small fire districts of the state have budgets of under $10,000 a year. So with that, they have to buy a $200,000 engine...You can do the math,” said Ward.

Three years ago, Geary County firefighters acquired a retired fire truck from the Fort Riley Fire Department through the excess property program.

“It’s just a good truck and the nice thing is, it didn’t cost $200,000,” said Geary County Fire Chief Garry Berges.

The Geary County Fire Department also owns a 5-ton, six-wheel drive military truck used for brush fires.

“These are all-wheel drive with pretty good off road performance. A lot of people will turn them into a heavy brush truck with a thousand gallons of water. You can fight a lot of grass fires with one of these things,” said Ward.

Once the departments receive the used military trucks, they’re retrofitted with equipment to fight fires and given a fresh coat of paint.

“They can set it up, with very few limitations, however they want; as fancy or as basic as their creativity or budget allow,” said Ward.

According to Ward, most of the counties in Kansas have used one of these programs at some point over the last 50 years. Currently, 80 percent of the counties in Kansas have one or more pieces of property through these programs.

“It’s kind of like being Santa Claus. Get to go out and give somebody something they really, really want and can’t get themselves,” said Ward.