Cross-river response: states bridge divide for emergency assists


News staff writer

March 10, 2007

Hood River County firefighters and medics could soon be protected from lawsuits while helping with an emergency across the Columbia River.

“We need to make sure the liability that first responders encounter as a result of entering into intergovernmental agreements is no different than the liability they normally incur when protecting their own citizens,” said Sen. Rick Metsger, D-Welches.

He and Rep. Patti Smith, R-Corbett, have co-sponsored House Bill 2583 to protect public agencies in border areas of the state. For example, Oregon currently limits the liability that government entities can incur to $50,000. However, there is no cap on legal challenges brought in Washington State — a major source of concern for insurance carriers.

HB 2583 allows Oregon responders to enter into an interstate cooperative agreement that holds them harmless for providing assistance in a neighboring state.

Smith said the legislation will also serve communities along the borders of Idaho and California. She said an amendment is now being considered to also tuck search and rescue operations into the bill.

“We want our emergency responders to be able to go wherever they are needed, especially in rural areas with limited manpower,” said Smith.

She and Metsger brought the bill forward after hearing concerns from Cascade Locks Fire Chief Jeff Pricher and Hood River Asst. Fire Chief Devon Wells last summer. The state officials were seated on the Joint Interim Committee on Emergency Preparedness and held three forums to gather public comment.

At a field hearing in Sandy, Wells said the City of Hood River had enough liability coverage to allow responders to cross Washington State with a “be careful” warning. However, he said most of the local departments, primarily those made up of volunteers, were financially unable to take that risk.

Pricher, who testified in Salem on Tuesday in favor of HB 2583, reiterated his previous testimony that Cascade Locks, as a small town in a remote location, was dependent upon help from outside sources during a major incident.

He said both Corbett and Hood River agencies have time delays for response because they are located about 20 miles away. But firefighters and medics from Stevenson, Wash., can arrive within minutes since they are sited just across the river.

In return, he said Cascade Locks helped Stevenson out during an Amtrak train derailment several years ago.

“If this legislation passes then we’ll be able to respond with a little more confidence and our governments will be a little more at ease as well,” Pricher said.

Smith and Metsger have also co-sponsored Senate Bill 459 to provide volunteer firefighters with a $250 credit on their state income taxes. The legislators felt that people who donated time to their community should be compensated in some way for that service.

“We are trying to do everything possible to help our emergency responders in any way that we can,” Smith said.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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