Senate to Vote on Federal/Military Mutual Aid

Fairfax, VA – Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) is offering an amendment to S. 1042, the Department of Defense (DoD) authorization bill for Fiscal Year (FY) 2006, that would allow federal/military fire departments to enter into mutual aid agreements with surrounding communities.

Federal/military fire departments are authorized to enter into mutual aid agreements with surrounding jurisdictions by federal statute (42 U.S.C. § 1856). This statute states that military fire departments can enter into agreements to provide “mutual aid in furnishing fire protection …” (emphasis added). The statute basically defines “fire protection” as fighting fires. However, the role of the fire department has changed in the 50 years since this statute was enacted, expanding to include much more than structural firefighting.

This had not been an issue until October of 2003, when legal counsel at the Defense Supply Center Columbus (DSCC-I) Fire Department in Ohio examined the mutual aid agreements between DSCC-I and the Ohio cities of Columbus and Whitehall. The legal counsel issued an opinion concluding that all medical response calls that DSCC-I answers on behalf of Whitehall and Columbus are unauthorized, unless they are related to a fire emergency.

To resolve this situation, DoD proposed legislative language for Congress to include in the department’s authorization bill for FY 2006. The White House Office of Management and Budget approved this language. However, neither the House nor the Senate included the language in the actual bill.

What the Amendment Would Do
Senator DeWine’s amendment would expand the definition of fire protection in this section of the law to include emergency medical services, including basic and advanced life support; hazardous materials containment and confinement; vehicular and water rescues; and trench, building and confined space extrications. The amendment uses DoD’s legislative language word-for-word.

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