Gallagher Renews Call for Tougher Meth Legislation
Tami Torres (850) 413-2842;
or Nina Banister (850) 528-1008
100 first responders listen to call for stronger legislation as two-day methamphetamine lab begins in Ft. Myers
FT. MYERS— Florida State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher today spoke to nearly 100 law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs and other responders about legislation he is advocating to strengthen criminal penalties against methamphetamine makers, to immediately remove children from homes operating as meth labs, and to enhance local efforts to crack down on meth.
"The spread of meth in our communities is a national epidemic and Florida is not immune," Gallagher said during his remarks. "Clandestine meth labs represent a domestic terror threat to our first responders, our law enforcement officers, and our families. The legislation I am proposing represents one of many solutions required at the local, state and federal level to stop the spread of this poison in our state."
Meth is manufactured using common household products, including over-the-counter cold medicines containing ephedrine. The chemicals used to create meth are highly toxic and flammable.
The responders Gallagher spoke to today are in a two-day intensive training class, provided free of charge by the State Fire Marshal's Office. The class is teaching emergency personnel how to recognize and handle the deadly risks found at clandestine meth labs.
In addition to the dangerous toxins and poisons found in most labs, many lab operators booby-trap their labs in order to destroy evidence and injure emergency personnel responding to meth lab incidents. Recent studies have shown that more than 1,000 responders have been injured by meth labs found in 16 states, including Florida, in the past five years. In 2005, evidence of meth manufacturing was seized in more than 90 Florida communities, almost 40 percent of them in suburban neighborhoods.
Gallagher called for the training after hearing that state arson investigators were responding to increasing numbers of meth lab fires and explosions – more than 50 in less than two years. Since last June, more than 500 responders from throughout Florida have attended one of six series of classes.
In addition to the training, Gallagher is pushing for laws that would enhance penalties for meth manufacturers whose labs injure responders or children. Gallagher's proposals are being sponsored by Sen. Carey Baker of Eustis and Rep. Faye Culp of Tampa.
Specifically, Gallagher is seeking legislation that would:
• Classify manufacturing of meth as a dangerous crime so bond can be denied. Not allowing bond for meth producers will keep them in jail until trial and stop them from returning to their communities and endangering them. Numerous meth cooks are arrested a second or third time before they face trial for their first production charge.
• Immediately remove and care for children found in meth labs. More than half of children rescued from homes used as meth labs test positive for meth and need urgent medical care and intervention. More than 120 children have been taken from meth labs in the past two years, and those are just the ones we know about.
• Enhance penalties if a responder is injured at a meth lab. Last year, the Legislature passed HB1347 which makes it a second-degree felony if a meth lab results in a serious injury to a state, local, or federal law enforcement officer. This legislation would also make it a third-degree felony if a firefighter, any other emergency responder or anyone from a government agency is injured when responding to a meth lab call. It would also make it a second-degree felony if a responder is killed or severely injured when called to respond to a meth lab.
• Protect health coverage for injured responders. This would ensure that no life or health insurer would be able cancel or non-renew a life or health insurance policy or coverage to a responder injured while responding to a meth lab call.
"Meth requires a comprehensive approach in which authorities at every level work together," Gallagher said. "We need to increase penalties, increase awareness and increase protection for our first-responders."