Washington, D.C. – On July 20, NVFC Chairman Philip C. Stittleburg testified before the House Committee on the Judiciary in support of legislation which would limit the liability of companies and fire departments that donate surplus equipment to volunteer fire departments. This legislation, H.R. 1787, the Good Samaritan Volunteer Firefighter Assistance Act, was introduced on April 11, 2003 by Rep. Michael Castle (R-DE).
“Well equipped fire departments have made it a tradition to give used equipment to those departments that are less fortunate or in dire need of equipment,” said Stittleburg. “However, in recent years, the fear of litigation if the gear later turns out to be faulty has made these donors think twice about giving.”
Every year, quality fire equipment, including hoses, fire trucks, protective clothing and breathing apparatus, with an estimated worth in the millions of dollars, are destroyed instead of being donated to volunteer fire departments in order to avoid civil liability lawsuits. The fear of litigation has forced heavy industry and wealthier fire departments to waste surplus equipment, which in many cases has years of use still left in it.
Many volunteer fire departments struggle financially to provide their members with the equipment they need to protect their communities. In fact, local taxpayers spend millions of dollars for operating expenses and for purchasing replacement equipment for their volunteer fire companies. By removing liability barriers that keep volunteer firefighters from receiving completely safe equipment, it would not only save taxpayers millions of dollars, it too would save perfectly good equipment.
“Unfortunately, the threat of civil liability has stood in the way of companies donating fire equipment to volunteer, rural and other financially-strapped departments, putting our brave men and women at risk,” Rep. Castle stated. “This legislation will remove this barrier and enable surplus, state of the art equipment to be donated to volunteer fire companies who will inspect the equipment for safety concerns and then once approved, use it in the field.”
H.R. 1787 is modeled after state law that has been passed in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri,South Carolina and Texas. In fact, since this bill was signed into law in Texas in 1997, donations in excess of $10 million worth of equipment for volunteer fire departments has been distributed.
Stittleburg added, “It is unfortunate that the fire service of our country is forced to search for serviceable used equipment to enable it to carry out its vital mission. However, until the day dawns when society accepts its role in providing proper support to those who protect them, legislation such as this will be necessary.”