FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE 04/08/2013
LEGISLATION BENEFITTING COUNTIES AND FIRE DEPARTMENTS DURING EMERGENCIES PASSES HOUSE
Austin, TX - Last week, House Bill 487, relating to liability of certain persons assisting in man-made or natural disasters, passed the Texas House of Representatives with unanimous support. H.B. 487 allows commissioners courts, county fire marshals, fire departments, and emergency management directors or coordinators to accept assistance from private citizens during times of emergency. H.B. 487 is designed to increase the flexibility of fire departments and other emergency personnel to utilize volunteers, heavy equipment, and other resources during man-made or natural disasters like wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes, and such. In exchange for their services, volunteers are granted liability protection under Chapter 79 of the Civil Practices and Remedies Code. Section 79.003 is commonly referred to as the state's "Good Samaritan" law.
As dry weather patterns continue, the House voted last week to approve a budget that increases appropriations to the Texas A&M Forest Service by 27 percent over the current biennium. This increase can be seen within the Volunteer Fire Department Assistance Fund and the Wildfire and Emergency Program.
"H.B. 487 is a powerful tool for our firefighters. With increased flexibility to accept volunteer services and a budget that provides more dollars to our firefighters, I believe we are heading into this fire season much more prepared than we were two years ago," said Representative Cecil Bell, Jr. (Magnolia).
Representative Bell authored H.B. 487 after his involvement in the Tri-County Fire/Riley Road Fire in 2011. Declared the largest interface fire in East Texas' history by the Texas A&M Forest Service, the fire burned 22,000 acres across Montgomery, Waller, and Grimes Counties. At the time, private landowners and companies with resources from across the state came forward to volunteer their services and equipment to fight the fire. Current law compelled emergency personnel to question whether those offers to assist could be accepted.
"This bill says Texans can come to the aid of our state and the defense of our counties, our communities, and our neighbors during those times when we find our state, federal, and local resources depleted or just not there, " said Representative Bell.
Joint authors of H.B. 487 include Representatives Travis Clardy (Nacogdoches), John Otto (Dayton), R. D. "Bobby" Guerra (Mission), and Dan Flynn (Van). H.B. 487 now heads to the Senate, where Senator Robert Nichols (Jacksonville) is carrying the companion bill, Senate Bill 1405.