McInnis’ firefighter bill passes House, heads to Senate
A bill introduced by Congressman Scott McInnis, R-Grand Junction, that would clear the way for up to 4,000 additional firefighters passed the House of Representatives Tuesday and is headed for the Senate where quick passage is expected.
“We are in for a long fire season this year,” McInnis said. “Our crews are strapped for additional manpower. Homes and property are being threatened, and dreams are lost. We owe it to each and every person affected by this to provide possible assistance.”
The assistance will come from 200 mid-level-manager firefighters from Australia, who until now have been prevented from working U.S. fires due to what McInnis spokesperson Blair Jones said was an “arcane” provision in a wildfire suppression act.
Current firefighting rules require one mid-level manager for every 20 rank-and-file firefighters in the field, Jones said, so the additional 200 managers could yield upwards of 4,000 firefighters.
Jones said the beauty of using Australian firefighters is they are idle now, because it’s winter in their country.
McInnis is chairman of the Resources Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health. He introduced the legislation in late June. After an introduction on the House floor and passage through the Judiciary Committee in an out-of-session hearing, the bill quickly gained momentum. Three additional committees, Agriculture, International Relations, and Resources, allowed the bill to move to the floor without delay.
Jones said the speed with which McInnis’ bill passed through the House is “kind of unheard of.”
As of late June, active fires have consumed almost 850,000 acres of forests nationwide, bringing the total acreage to 2.6 million burned since January 1, 2002.
“America is currently at a level five state of preparedness, which means we are on high alert and need reinforcements to combat these fires,” McInnis said. “The military has been called in to assist, and firefighters are in route from all over the country.”
McInnis’ legislation will amend the Wildfire Suppression Assistance Act of 1988, allowing the Secretary of Interior and Agriculture to enter into reciprocal agreements with foreign fire organizations for mutual aid in wildfire protection.
In addition, the act requires that foreign countries or states extend a reciprocal benefit to United States firefighters in the event the United States provides assistance to them.
The legislation will eliminate the risk of tort liability to foreign firefighters and their governments while foreign firefighters are working on fires the United States.
The legislation will also deem foreign firefighters to be federal employees for the limited purpose of securing them coverage under the Federal Tort Claims Act. It would make the laws of the host country the only source of remedies available for acts and omissions in firefighting activities in the host country.
The legislation will further provide that neither the firefighter, the sending country, nor any organization associated with the firefighter, shall be liable for any action resulting from fighting fires.
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