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Senate committee OKs bill authorizing Purdue University Fire Department to serve outside campus boundaries

STATEHOUSE (Jan. 26, 2011) - Even before alumnus Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Purdue University had its own fire department. Today, a Senate committee took another step toward giving that department authority to serve beyond campus boundaries.

State Sens. Brandt Hershman and Ron Alting (Rs-Lafayette) said the Senate Committee on Public Policy unanimously passed Senate Bill 336, which would allow the department to expand its territory and negotiate service agreements with neighboring communities to help save money and provide more service for Tippecanoe County.

"Many may not have known Purdue University had a fire department," said Hershman, who authored the bill with Alting. "This bill is important, because it allows the university's board of trustees to enter into inter-local cooperation and mutual aid agreements with other departments in the West Lafayette area."

"At a time when budgets are under a microscope, this move could reduce fire service expenses in the area and provide greater public safety for the community," Alting said.

Those testifying at Wednesday's committee also explained the agreements would help reduce or eliminate any liability issues that might occur with Purdue University's fire department and other local fire departments working together during a disaster.

"For example, if the Purdue University fire department got a call of a major accident on I-65, personnel would not legally have the authority to respond because of liability issues limiting the force to boundaries of the Purdue campus," said Tim Sanders, associate vice president for governmental relations at Purdue University. "This is a good thing for Purdue, a good thing for the community and the surrounding area."

Purdue University Fire Chief Kevin Ply told the committee the bill would help his department help others.

"Obviously no public agency can completely staff for all emergencies," Ply said to the committee. "In times when other community fire departments are busy, we can back them up."

SB 336 now moves on for consideration by the full Senate.

Purdue University's fire department dates back to 1963, when 11 firefighters made 92 emergency runs. It was originally formed to serve the Purdue University airport, the first university airport of its kind in the state and one of the first in the nation. Today, the department has 28 professional firefighters and last year made about 2,700 emergency runs. It primarily serves a growing Purdue campus of more than 50,000 people on any given day.