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Oso's Echo: More Aid Likely For Fire Crews Responding To Disasters, Accidents

Lindsey Wasson, Seattle Times
AP Photo (Pool)
Workers comb through debris at the site of a deadly mudslide, Friday, March 28, 2014, in Oso, Wash. Volunteers worked nearly a week without statewide emergency response systems, because of interpretation of state law prevents mobilization without fire.

The tragic landslide in Oso more than a year ago appears likely to have a silver lining for firefighters and the communities they serve: A legislative measure that would allow small town fire departments to share resources more effectively has unanimously passed out of the state senate and looks poised to become law.

Fire chiefs say they’ve been working for years to get more government help in natural disasters and accidents where nothing’s on fire.

Firefighters are trained to respond to all kinds of emergencies – especially in small towns. People call for everything from cat rescues to devastating accidents. And if there’s a big disaster such as an earthquake or oil spill, says Chief Brad Reading from Snohomish County Fire District 1, the law currently doesn’t cover the cost of outside help, unless something is burning. But it looks like that’s set to change.

“Let’s say a stadium collapses and you need to deal with 1,000 patients - that would get mobilization or could, ” Reading said.

His colleagues are already congratulating him on a measure that would allow mobilization for everything except assisting police during big protests. And they have the deaths of 43 people and devastation of dozens of homes in the Oso mudslide to thank for that.

“'(It) brought it to light, brought it to the top of the pecking order with the Oso Commission recommending it and the fire service pushing it hard.  Oso really pointed out the flaw in the current system,” he said.

The measure needs a final vote in the legislature before it goes to the governor’s desk for signing. It's cost is unknown, but with the unanimous passage in the Senate on Wednesday and political pressure to make changes after the tragic slide, final approval appears likely.

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to