Idaho lawmakers are set to approve a plan to give emergency responders from outside Idaho the same protection from lawsuits that Idaho ambulances, police, and fire fighters receive. The Senate State Affairs Committee approved a proposal to extend liability to out-of-state responders after the House approved it on a 64-0 vote March 1.
“We’re trying to extend the same liability protection to non-residence responders that Idaho (responders) have,” said Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace. He said the motivation for the bill is the threat of lawsuits in to responders based in Utah’s Rich County, which borders Bear Lake County, Idaho, but it would affect all of Idaho’s neighboring states. ““I did not want to make this a Bear Lake issue,” Gibbs said. “It affects any out-of-stat responder.”
Gibbs said the lack of liability protection forces Utah law enforcement to take extra precautions. He said this leads to problems when police respond to incidents in Garden City, Utah, which is accessible by roads that go through Idaho. “If they have an emergency there, they come with lights on until they get to the Utah border, turn their lights off at the border, drive the speed limit back around through Idaho, and turn their lights on when they’re back in Utah.”
Gibbs said he has not seen similar problems along the Wyoming border, but has not looked into border problems with other states. “I have not examined the Montana border, nor Oregon or Washington,” he said. Gibbs also did not mention any issues with emergency responders along the Nevada border.
Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, said she had a personal experience along the Montana border where emergency responders from two states arrived at the scene of a car collision, and her mother was taken to the wrong hospital. “You could have an over-response and it’s chaos,” she said. No senators on the committee voted against the proposal, but Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise said she was concerned about the unintended consequences of extending liability to non-Idaho emergency responders.
“There are unintended consequences, but most of them fall in favor of the state of Idaho,” said Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs. He said firefighters from Utah helped with a fire at a grocery store in Preston in southeast Idaho, which the city’s volunteer fire department couldn’t contain by itself. “There’s a good likelihood that the entire Main Street could have burned,” Geddes said.