Article 1 of the Indiana Constitution says, “… all free governments are, and of right ought to be, founded on their authority, and instituted for their peace, safety, and well-being.” Very early in the Constitution, the founders were sure to proclaim in no uncertain terms that the public’s safety would be of utmost importance to state officials.
I had the privilege of serving as a professional firefighter for 26 years. The career was a privilege because it allowed me to help provide for the public’s safety on a daily basis. The ability to give back and serve others meant more to me than any money or recognition I ever received.
That passion for public service led me to pursue a seat in the state legislature. I was humbled this past session when Speaker Bosma appointed me to serve as Chairman of the Veterans Affairs and Public Safety Committee. That chairmanship put me in a position to lead the charge on public safety issues statewide.
For folks in Southeast Indiana, a discussion about public safety resurrects images of the devastation left behind when a tornado swept through the Henryville and Holton areas last year. To manage that situation, first responders from other communities bravely rushed to the scene to help their neighbors in need. To provide coverage for their own respective municipalities, local departments had to call in backup firefighters to fill in for those who had responded to the tornado.
Unfortunately, the hardship of the storm extended far beyond the tornado’s path. At the time of the tragedy, there was no mechanism at the state level to pay the overtime wages of the first responders or the cost of bringing in the backup firefighters. Those burdensome costs fell on the local departments.
Government cannot calm the winds, but it can certainly alleviate the burdens faced by local heroes who want nothing more than to protect their neighbors during a time of desperate need. This year, I authored House Enrolled Act (HEA) 1325 to addresses mobile disaster relief funding. The new law says that the State Disaster Relief Fund can now be used to pay first responders. It also provides funds for local departments to bring in backup firefighters to replace those who responded to a disaster.