County cashes in, acquires federal surplus trucks for fire protection

Through a U.S. Department of Defense program designed to clear out excess and obsolete equipment, Custer County was able to get two large 2006 International trucks, valued at approximately $31,000 each, for only the cost of bringing them back from California.

That expense amounted to less than $2,000, plus a lot of highway time for Custer County Fire Warden Bud Peterson and T.J. Hoff, who accompanied Peterson to get the trucks and drive them home. The trucks will be used as water tenders by the Custer County Fire Department.

“It made for two long days,” Peterson said, especially since the trucks had governors limiting their speed when they first left California. They were able to get the governors adjusted at an International dealership in Twin Falls, Idaho. Peterson also had to replace the trucks’ batteries on the trip home.

But the time was well worth it, since the trucks are replacing two vehicles, one of which is a 1972 Chevrolet with a blown head gasket.  That truck held a 2,500 gallon water tank which will be mounted on one of the Internationals as soon as time and weather permit. The second water tender has a 2,000 gallon tank mounted on a 1991 GMC vehicle, which is also showing its age.

Peterson said he hopes the tanks will be transferred and the new trucks will be operational within the next week or so. Nolley’s Welding of Miles City will assist in the moving of the tanks from the old vehicles to the new ones.

Randy Sanders of the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) was responsible for pointing Peterson to the trucks.

Through the DNRC office in Missoula, officials track offers of free federal surplus equipment. Custer County Commissioner Keith Holmlund said they often only have “a matter of few days to make the decision” on such offers.

While the county budget did not include funds for new trucks, County Commissioner Jason Strouf said there was enough money in the travel budget to cover the expenses and that was all the county had to pay.

The trucks were used to fuel airplanes at a U.S. Airforce base and although they are 10 years old, they only have 10,000 miles on them because they just drove up and down runways.

Sanders calls the system that allows the federal government to donate excess or obsolete equipment to states, counties and other local governments “a very nice program.”

The old vehicles that are being replaced will be offered to other county departments for their use or to be parted out. If no one wants them, they will be sold to the public.