Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler’s legislation supporting Missouri Task Force one passed the House today, moving the measure one step closer to law. The National Urban Search and Rescue Parity Act (H.R. 639) 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. The legislation now heads to the Senate for consideration.

“This bill establishes clear policy that FEMA may not preclude federal employees from serving on US&R teams,” said Hartzler, noting that Missouri Task Force One has been hindered by misinterpretations in the law which made it difficult for federal employees to volunteer their service. “FEMA’s misinterpretation of current law is preventing dedicated Missouri Task Force One members from deploying to disaster areas where they actively save lives. This goes against congressional intent and my bill resolves this problem” added Hartzler.

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 One 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 a task forces. Hartzler’s bill addresses this omission.

“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.”