Volume 3 Number 19
May 8, 2006

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Legislation enhances protections for children and emergency responders

State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher said Florida’s children and emergency responders and, ultimately, its communities will be better protected because the Legislature passed a bill enhancing penalties for methamphetamine manufacturers.

“Methamphetamine devastates lives, but not just the lives of those who use the drug,” Gallagher said. “Children are being neglected, first responders are being exposed to toxic fumes and explosions at meth labs, and communities are dealing with the costs of cleanup and rehabilitation. This legislation will make a significant difference in protecting our communities from this evil drug.”

House Bill 1325, sponsored by Rep. Faye Culp, was unanimously approved by the Senate today and heads to the governor. Sen. Carey Baker was the sponsor in the Senate.

The legislation:
• Authorizes the Department of Children and Families to begin dependency proceedings for the immediate removal of children found at meth labs.
• Allows the courts to hold meth producers without bail while awaiting trial. This provision was included at the request of law enforcement because meth producers, once released on bail, often begin producing the drug again.
• Extends criminal penalties to include firefighters and other emergency response personnel injured or killed while responding to meth labs (third-degree felony if injured; second-degree felony if killed or severely injured).
• Prevents first responders from having life or health insurance canceled because they have tested positive for meth as a result of performing their jobs.

“The number of meth labs found in Florida has increased by 1,100 percent in five years, and that means more children, first responders and communities are at risk,” Sen. Baker said. “We must do all we can to fight back against this insidious drug.”

Culp said the legislation builds on successful strategies already put in place by Gov. Jeb Bush and the Governor’s Office of Drug Control. “Strategies such as putting cold medicines containing ephedrine behind the counter were a significant first step, but for those who still have not gotten the message that we don’t want meth in our state, they will know we mean business when they are left to sit behind bars.”

The legislation that passed today contains proposals Gallagher began advocating last June in response to the increase in meth lab seizures and fires in Florida.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office has responded to more than 50 meth lab fires and explosions in the last two years. And, in conjunction with the Multi-Jurisdictional Counter Drug Task Force, the State Fire Marshal’s Office has helped educate and prepare hundreds of Florida emergency responders to respond to the dangers these labs pose. Statistics indicate that more than 1,000 responders in 16 states, including Florida, have been injured responding to meth labs in the past five years, and nearly half of all children found in meth labs test positive for having the drug in their blood.


As part of Arson Awareness Week May 7-12, the State Fire Marshal’s Office will hold open houses at its regional offices and distribute information to the public about how to spot key indicators of meth activity.

  • Strong chemical odors such as ether, ammonia (smell similar to cat urine) and acetone (smells similar to fingernail polish remover)

  • Evidence of chemical waste or dumping Unusually active human traffic and activity in and out of property or home at odd times of day and night including frequent visitors

  • The frequent burning of “trash” on a property  

  • Curtains always drawn or windows blackened or covered with aluminum foil
  • Excessive amounts of cold medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine
  • Propane tanks with burn marks or altered valves
  • Charcoal starting fluid containers opened from the bottom
  • Heating sources such as hotplates, torches or camp stoves

This past weekend in Tallahassee, alert residents complained of a strong odor that made their eyes burn. Their call to law enforcement led to the arrests of seven people suspected of operating a meth lab.

“Meth labs have been found in rural, city and suburban areas, in houses, apartments, motel rooms, vehicles, back rooms of commercial businesses and elsewhere,” Gallagher said. “Everyone has a role to play in fighting this epidemic, and the Legislature’s vote today shines a light at the end of this tunnel.”

The chemicals used to create meth are highly toxic and flammable, and many labs are also booby-trapped. As a result, more than 1,000 first responders have been injured in meth labs found in 16 states, including Florida, since 2001.  Nearly half of all children rescued from homes or living areas used as meth labs test positive for meth and need urgent medical care.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office has provided intensive meth lab training to nearly 700 emergency responders, and this summer the State Fire Marshal’s Office and FDLE will hold courses to certify 50 additional officers who can respond to and dismantle meth labs.  

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations is the law enforcement branch of the Division of State Fire Marshal that assists other state and local fire and law enforcement agencies in the investigation of fires of suspicious origin.  Anyone with information about any incident of fire is asked to call 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).

Gallagher is distributing a brochure urging the public to get involved and report meth lab activity. 

The brochure is available at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fightmeth.