The 2011 General Session of the West Virginia Legislature will have to address issues critical to the continued operations of over 400 volunteer fire departments in the State. VFDs are going to lose Worker’s Compensation coverage – insurance required for operation of a VFD – on June 30, 2011 unless a solution is found to address the anticipated 600-700% increase in premiums projected. Many volunteer fire departments in the State cannot absorb the projected increases and may be forced to close if there isn’t some form of relief granted. Similar situations in other states have lead to the closure of volunteer fire departments like the Knight Township Volunteer Fire Department in Indiana which closed its doors on January 1, 2011.
The current worker’s compensation provider, Brickstreet, has stated publicly that it will no longer cover fire departments under the current premium structure. Brickstreet already sent a notice to volunteer fire departments in May of 2010 informing them that their Broadform liability coverage(s) would not be renewed. This refusal to renew generated a potential crisis in volunteer fire department operations across the State with some threatening to close their doors if officers and Board members were not protected. An opinion from the General Counsel for the Insurance Commission stated that volunteer fire departments didn’t need Broadform liability coverage as, in her opinion; they are protected under the State’s Tort Claims Act. Sam Love, lobbyist for the West Virginia State Fireman’s Association, stated, “If we supposedly didn’t need it, why were they selling it to us and charging us for it? Further, if it was not needed and we couldn’t be sued under Broadform, why did they feel the need to cancel it? It just doesn’t make sense.” The issue remains unresolved for many and the State Fireman’s Association feels that there needs to be legislative clarification for volunteer fire departments and other emergency responders.
Jim Oldaker, Chief of the Alum Creek Volunteer Fire Department and President of the State Fireman’s Association, stated, “We want to work with the Governor’s Office and the Legislature to avert a crisis…there is no glory in fighting a fire that could have been prevented.” He goes on to add, “We would like to sit down and meet with the Governor so that he fully understands the situation that we are facing.” The West Virginia State Fireman’s Association has been working with the West Virginia State Fire Chief’s Association on the legislative agenda. Gary Bonnett, Chief of the Bank District Volunteer Fire Department and President of the State Chief’s Association stated, “These issues impact us all and we need to find a resolution in this session. The clock is ticking for many fire departments.”
The West Virginia State Fireman’s Association is also wanting the Legislature and the Governor to help them with issues related to the retention and recruitment of volunteers.
Firefighters plan to show up in force at the State-of-the-State address to speak with their legislators and they plan to be active in pressing their case during this legislative session.
The West Virginia State Fireman’s Association represents over 300 volunteer fire departments across the State and is the State’s liaison with the National Volunteer Fire Council. The Association works to promote firefighter health and safety, fire prevention, and the operations of volunteer fire departments across the State. For more information about the WV State Fireman’s Association please visit our website at http://www.wvsfa.org/. For more information about the West Virginia State Fire Chief’s Association, please contact Gary Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.