FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 01/15/2013
BELL FILES LEGISLATION TO BENEFIT FIRE DEPARTMENTS DURING EMERGENCIES
Austin, TX - State Representative Cecil Bell, Jr. (Magnolia) filed his first piece of legislation Monday. House Bill 487, relating to liability of certain persons assisting in hazardous or dangerous situations, allows commissioners courts, county fire marshals, fire departments, and emergency management directors or coordinators to accept assistance from private citizens during times of emergency. HB 487 is designed to increase the flexibility of fire departments and emergency personnel to utilize volunteers, heavy equipment, and other resources during hazardous or dangerous situations, such as wildfires. In exchange for their services, volunteers are explicitly granted liability protection under Chapter 79 of the Civil Practices and Remedies Code.
In 2011 alone, 1,038 Texas fire departments reported 1,731,912 fire and non-fire incidents to the Texas Fire Incident Reporting System. Fire departments responded to 102,799 fires—one fire every five minutes. As a result of these fires, 169 civilians lost their lives, 825 civilians were injured, and $1,035,707,502 in property loss was realized. Montgomery and Waller were not immune to this trend, experiencing the largest interface fire in East Texas' history. The Tri-County Fire, or Riley Road Fire, burned 19,960 acres and destroyed 73 homes. At the time, private landowners and companies with resources across the state came forward to volunteer their services and equipment to fight the fire, but emergency personnel questioned whether offers to assist could be accepted.
"As dry weather patterns persist across most of Texas, it will be important for the 83rd Texas Legislature to work to limit losses from disasters," said Rep. Bell. "Some communities may be operating similarly to this now. Let's give our hard-working emergency services personnel and willing volunteers the force of law behind their efforts."
In an effort to educate other freshmen House members regarding the coordination of local responders and agency personnel and equipment in wildfire fighting efforts, Rep. Bell and Rep. John Raney (College Station) have invited their colleagues to join them in touring the Texas A&M Engineering Extension Service Brayton Fire Training Field/Disaster City and the Texas A&M Forest Service Emergency Operations Center on Friday, Jan. 25.