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Gallagher Renews Call for Legislation to Combat Meth


Tami Torres or Nina Banister
(850) 413-2842

Bill would better protect child victims, emergency responders and communities
 TALLAHASSEE—State Fire Marshal Tom Gallagher today joined legislative leaders, law enforcement and firefighters in calling for the passage of legislation aimed at combating methamphetamine or "meth" labs in Florida and enhancing protections of children, law enforcement and other emergency responders exposed to meth manufacturers.
"The spread of meth in our communities is a serious threat to our families and our first responders, and it is a challenge which requires a comprehensive approach," said Gallagher, who first proposed the reforms last June.  "The legislation I am proposing today will increase penalties for meth makers, increase protections for firefighters and first responders, and rescue innocent children from toxic living conditions. Attacking meth in our state is my number one legislative priority as Fire Marshal."
Gallagher was joined by Senator Carey Baker (R-Eustis) and Representative Faye Culp (R-Tampa), who are sponsoring legislation, Senate Bill 2356 and House Bill 1325, reflecting the recommendations of the State Fire Marshal's Office.
"Senator Baker and Representative Culp know the dangers meth poses to their communities, and their sponsorship of this legislation is a testament to their leadership," added Gallagher.
"If we don't do more than slap meth makers on the wrists, they will continue to produce this insidious drug and further endanger our communities," said Sen. Carey Baker, who is sponsoring the legislation.  "Moreover, removing children immediately from homes used as meth labs is their best, and maybe only, chance to get the medical care they need."
Nearly half of all children rescued from homes or living areas used as meth labs test positive for meth and need urgent medical care and intervention.  More than 130 children have been injured in meth labs in the last two years.
Rep. Faye Culp, the House sponsor, concurred and stressed that law enforcement and emergency responders are also at risk.  
"Fumes, fires and explosions from meth labs pose a serious threat to our law enforcement, firefighters and other emergency responders," Culp said.  "The children forced to live in these labs also urgently need our help and attention."
The chemicals used to create meth are highly toxic and flammable.  Many labs are also booby-trapped.  As a result, more than 1,000 responders have been injured in meth labs found in 16 states, including Florida, since 2001.  Gallagher said that the State Fire Marshal's Office has responded to more than 50 meth lab fires and explosions around the state, including Jacksonville, Daytona, Lakeland and the Panhandle.   Gallagher said meth labs are cropping up in suburban and rural neighborhoods, state parks, hotels and motels, and in vehicles traveling on our highways.  In 2005, evidence of meth manufacturing was reported in 90 Florida communities.
Senate Bill 2356 and House Bill 1325 would: 
• Authorize the Department of Children and Families to begin dependency proceedings for the immediate removal of children found at meth labs.

• Allow 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, immediately begin producing the drug again.

• Extend 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).

• Prevent first responders from having life or health insurance canceled because they have tested positive for meth as a result of performing their jobs.  
Gallagher has spoken to responders who have attended intensive training programs provided free-of-charge by the State Fire Marshal's Office.  Gallagher called for the training in early 2005 to teach officers and responders how to identify a meth lab after noting an increase in fires and explosions at these labs.  Nearly 500 responders from more than 70 agencies have participated in the trainings. Two programs are planned next month, in Volusia and Manatee counties respectively.
Starting this June, the State Fire Marshal's Office and FDLE will hold courses to certify 50 additional officers who can respond to and dismantle meth labs.   These officers would come from various law enforcement agencies throughout Florida and would provide assistance to the six state task forces organized under the Governor's Office of Drug Control.
"Meth poses a major threat to communities across Florida," said William Janes, the new director of the Governor's Office of Drug Control.  "At the Governor's direction, our office has taken aggressive action to combat the production and distribution of meth in our state. Our office supports any additional reforms that build on the foundation we've set."
 Lt. Kevin Fiedor, who is a fire and arson detective with the State Fire Marshal's Office, relayed details from a recent investigation of a meth lab explosion at a Destin motel that destroyed the room and displaced several motel guests.  One of the suspects in the Destin motel explosion was subsequently arrested weeks later in a motel parking lot in Niceville, fully equipped with the chemicals and equipment for making meth.
"We need to be able to keep these individuals behind bars," Fiedor said.  "As a 17-year law enforcement officer, enhanced penalties and additional protections are critical to helping me and my colleagues fight the spread of this drug."
Also attending the press conference in support of the legislation were Guy Tunnell, FDLE Commissioner; Bob Carver, President of the Florida Professional Firefighters Association; and Frank Messersmith, on behalf of the Florida Sheriff's Association.