PONTIAC — Gov. Bruce Rauner joined state Rep. Thomas Bennett at an event today recognizing Pontiac Chief of Police and U.S. Army veteran James B. Woolford and Kent McCanless, director of the Woodford County Emergency Management Agency, for their part in initiating two new public safety laws.
The two emergency services officials were instrumental in the drafting and signing of new legislation — one law that ensures that directors and chiefs can respond to emergencies more safely, and another making it easier for local emergency services agencies to hire qualified individuals to join their teams.
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“Emergency personnel and first responders all across our state have such an important job in our communities. By ensuring that vehicles driven by police and fire chiefs may be equipped with sirens, bells or whistles, we’re improving their ability to arrive on scenes quickly and safely — while also improving the safety of all motorists on our highways,” Rauner said. “The second new law ensures that our police agencies can hire from a broader pool of applicants while maintaining high quality standards.
“The initiative shown by Chief Woolford and Director McCanless in reaching out to Rep. Bennett to get these laws passed is remarkable,” the governor continued. “These are wonderful examples of people working together with their elected officials to make communities better.”
Woolford was the driving force behind HB0305, a bill amending the Illinois Municipal Code for police and fire department employment college education requirements. Before it was signed into law, police and fire applicants were required to have an associate’s degree or to have served 24 months of active duty or 180 days combat duty in the U.S. Armed Forces. Now candidates may obtain a waiver of the associate’s degree requirement if they have completed at least 60 college credit hours toward a bachelor’s degree. The bill was signed Sept. 8 and was effective immediately.
“I had seen a number of good candidates not be eligible to apply,” said Woolford, noting that many candidates who had been pursuing four-year degrees had completed more credit hours than some eligible candidates with associate’s degrees.
McCanless, an Illinois professional emergency manager and emergency medical technician, pushed for the measure to allow top municipal emergency response officials to equip their vehicles with loud audible devices. Passage of HB3469 means that vehicles driven by fire chiefs, chiefs of police, sheriffs or chief emergency medical services officers may be equipped with a siren, whistle or bell audible from a distance of no less than 500 feet. This bill was signed Aug. 18 and goes into effect Jan. 1, 2018.
Formerly, “fire chiefs and emergency managers were able to use red and blue lights to respond to an emergency, but not sirens,” McCanless said. “I thought that did not make any sense. Not only do we need to be seen but also heard. It was a life-safety issue."
“I am thankful to Chief Jim Woolford and Director Kent McCanless for their help in bringing these important issues to my attention so that we could take action to improve public safety in Illinois,” said Bennett, R-Gibson City. “I appreciate Gov. Rauner’s support for our legislation to help make emergency responses safer and to help local communities hire qualified police officers.”
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