Bill proposes Columbia firefighters wouldn't be obligated to respond to every call
JEFFERSON CITY — If you live in an outlying neighborhood in Columbia, you might stop receiving service from both the Boone County Fire Protection District and the Columbia Fire Department.
House Bill 2045, sponsored by Rep. Cheri Toalson Reish, R-Hallsville, states that "a municipality will not have any obligation to respond to calls or fire-fighting service within an area it has recently annexed if the area is within a fire protection district."
Currently, if you live in an annexed area outside Columbia city limits and call 911, both the Columbia Fire Department and the Boone County Fire Protection District are required to respond.
This bill would make it so that both departments are no longer required to respond to calls in those areas.
On Tuesday, former city manager Bill Watkins testified as a witness to the local government committee.
He said the Boone County Fire Protection District and the Columbia Fire Department should not both be obligated to answer service calls. Watkins said neighborhoods on the outskirts should be responded to by the closest station.
"When both departments respond," Watkins said. "It detracts from the ability to provide service."
Rep. Bill Falkner, R-St. Joseph, questioned why responding to calls is optional.
"If a community is going to annex, [fire departments have] got to provide service," Falkner said.
Rep. Sheila Solon, R-St. Joseph, expressed her concerns that by telling one service they don't need to respond to calls, this might jeopardize the safety of communities.
"When we are talking about protecting life and property, we certainly don't want to say that you don't have the responsibility to respond, because you do, as a backup plan," Solon said.
But Watkins said it is confusing when both groups respond to calls.
"This is not a real good use of city money to be sending a fire truck or a crew out when they don't need to be," Watkins said.
Solon said there are better solutions and that by putting "no obligation" into law eliminates possibilities.
"The letter of the law says no obligation and that is getting me a little heartburn," Solon said.
T.J O'Brien, President of Columbia Professional Fire Fighters Local 1055, says people who live in the outside areas of Columbia will be double taxed for the protection district and the department.
"If it's in the city it should be our responsibility," O'Brien said. "This is a bad bill and what I am asking the committee is to do is to tear this bill up."