President Signs Hartzler Legislation Supporting Missouri Task Force 1 into Law
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler’s (MO-04) legislation supporting Missouri Task Force 1 was signed into law. Hartzler’s bill, the National Urban Search and Rescue Parity Act (H.R. 639), which passed the House in April and the Senate in July, establishes clear policy allowing federal employees to serve on FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Task Forces. Hartzler’s bill clarifies a 2016 law which has prevented long-time Missouri task force members from serving on these vital search and rescue teams.
“With this bill now law, more Missouri Task Force 1 members can be deployed to disaster areas both in Missouri and nation-wide,” said Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, who introduced this legislation after meeting with task force members to hear about their concerns. “This dedicated group of volunteers puts their lives on the line to help others, and this law reforms the system so all dedicated volunteers can be deployed. This was a team effort and I am grateful for Senator Blunt and Hawley’s assistance in moving this bill through the Senate. The President’s support today completes this process,” added Hartzler, who noted that Senator Hawley’s companion legislation to H.R. 639 was introduced in the Senate this summer.
Hartzler added that this bill establishes a clear policy that FEMA may not preclude federal employees from serving on US&R teams, noting that Missouri Task Force 1 has been hindered by misinterpretations in the law which made it difficult for federal employees to volunteer their service. She noted that FEMA’s misinterpretation of current law is preventing dedicated Missouri Task Force 1 members from deploying to disaster areas where they actively save lives. This goes against congressional intent and this bill resolves this problem.
The FEMA National Urban Search and Rescue Response System consists of 28 task force teams across the country that utilize the unique skills and resources of local volunteers to respond to disaster missions. Missouri Task Force 1 is based in Columbia, Missouri and is sponsored by the Boone County Fire Protection District. This task force, along with others across the country, have been impacted by FEMA’s decision to preclude federal employees from serving.
In 2016, Congress passed the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System Act, which provides non-federal employees various federal liability protections due to their participation on US&R teams. FEMA has interpreted this law to mean that federal employees are prohibited from serving on these task forces. Hartzler’s bill addresses this omission and has received broad support from stakeholders such as the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
“I thank Representative Hartzler and Senator Hawley for addressing this pressing issue. Federal firefighters and other employees can provide necessary skills to the federal US&R teams. I’m glad Congress has clarified that they can be US&R team members,” said Chief Dan Eggleston, President and Chairman of the Board, International Association of Fire Chiefs.
Boone County Fire Protection District Fire Chief Scott Olsen, who is the Sponsoring Agency Chief and Program Manager for Missouri Task Force 1 (MO-TF1), one of 28 FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) Task Forces, commented, "The passage of H.R. 639 was very important to MO-TF1 and the other 27 FEMA US&R Task Forces in the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System. It will allow 4 of our own team members who are federal employees and approximately 50 other additional federal employees who are members of the other 27 teams to deploy to future federal disasters. Those members affected by the National Urban Search and Rescue Response System statute enacted in December 2016, have not been able to deploy to federal disasters for three years due to a section of the statute that prohibited federal employees from responding to federal disasters as members of a FEMA US&R Task Force. Some of those affected by this prohibition have previously deployed to some of the most significant national and international disasters in the past 29 years. MO-TF1 would like to thank Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler for introducing H.R. 639 and leading the fight to fix the FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Response System statute which will now allow federal employees to again respond to federal disasters as members of a FEMA Urban Search and Rescue Task Force."
This is the second bill dealing with disaster recovery and assistance that Hartzler has had signed into law. In 2017, President Trump signed into law Hartzler’s FEMA Relief Improvement Act (H.R. 1117), a measure aimed at increasing the reliability of FEMA’s services following disasters. The law ensures disaster victims receive better guidance, more accurate information and greater service from FEMA during emergencies and natural disasters.
Congresswoman Hartzler represents Missouri’s Fourth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. She serves on the House Agriculture and Armed Services Committees.
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