Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler’s (MO-04) legislation supporting Missouri Task Force 1 was cleared through the Senate and sent on its way to the White House. Hartzler’s bill, the National Urban Search and Rescue Parity Act (H.R. 639), which passed the House in April, 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.
“This bill will enable more Missouri Task Force 1 members to be deployed,” said Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, who introduced this legislation after meeting with Missouri Task Force 1 members to hear about their concerns. “I am so proud of this dedicated group of volunteers who put their lives on the line in times of disaster to help others. It was imperative we fix this glitch in federal law so all dedicated volunteers can be deployed. I am grateful for Senator Blunt and Hawley’s assistance in moving this bill through the Senate and I look forward to the President signing it into law,” added Hartzler, who noted that Senator Hawley’s companion legislation to H.R. 639 passed the Senate this summer.
Hartzler added that this bill establishes 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 sponsored by the Boone County Fire Protection District. This task force, along with others across the country, has 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.
“The IAFC is proud to support H.R. 639. We’re glad that Congress is acting to clarify that federal firefighters and other civil servants can join federal Urban Search and Rescue teams,” said Chief Dan Eggleston, President and Chairman of the Board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “Federal employees provide important lifesaving skills that can help their neighbors in times of crisis.”
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.