House Committee Discusses West Explosion
On Monday, April 14, the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety met to discuss the fatal fertilizer facility explosion that occurred in the City of West in April of 2013. Testimony from the state fire marshal indicated that a leading factor in the explosion was that 46 of the 96 locations in the state that store fertilizer do so in wooden structures instead of steel or concrete, which likely would have prevented an explosion like the one in West. In addition to discussing potential regulations that would require switching from wooden to non-flammable storage structures, three ideas were discussed that would affect Texas cities.
First, it was suggested that volunteer firefighters, who currently are not required to undergo mandatory training, should be required to receive such training. Discussion was made of the cost burden of mandatory training to smaller communities, and the possibility that some fire departments might have to disband if this were imposed as an unfunded mandate. Committee Chairman Joe Pickett (D-El Paso) acknowledged these concerns and indicated that locating state money to pay for such a requirement would be preferable to an unfunded mandate.
Second, a suggestion was made by a representative of the Texas Department of Insurance that cities might be empowered to set minimum insurance requirements for fertilizer businesses. Representatives of the League are meeting with the Department to discuss the legal and practical ramifications of city regulation over insurance minimums and whether, should insurance requirements be placed on fertilizer facilities, those requirements are best handled at the local or state level.
Finally, there was much discussion in the hearing of whether there should be additional emergency management training for local government officials. Under current law, only an appointed city official tasked with emergency management duties must attend three hours of training at the state level. Some witnesses at the hearing suggested that elected officials, such as the mayor, should be required to attend required training.
The League will work closely with Chairman Pickett and his committee during the rest of the interim to ensure that the committee’s recommendations are appropriate with respect to city authority and duties.