On Wednesday, June 16, 2010 members of the West Virginia State Fireman’s Association met with Governor Joe Manchin III, Insurance Commissioner Jane Cline, Brickstreet CEO Greg Burton, Counsel for the Speaker of the House (Rick Thompson) Dan Kimball, State Fire Marshal Sterling Lewis, and other government staff regarding issues with Worker’s Compensation impacting volunteer fire departments. Those present from the West Virginia State Fireman’s Association were:
- Paula Smith, President
- Doug Estep
- John Ashcraft
- John Holstein
- Tom Miller
The meeting was very open and all sides voiced their issues, concerns, and viewpoints.
As a result of that meeting, the following can be announced:
1) Brickstreet has agreed to a moratorium on any increases in Worker’s Compensation premiums until July 1, 2011. This means that your premiums will not go up and/or you will not be charged the previously posted rates. There may be some administrative glitches in this as Brickstreet is already into their billing cycle for July 2010 – DON’T PANIC!!! – simply call your agent/Brickstreet representative and let them know if you are/were charged at the higher rate(s). They have verbally agreed to correct those issues.
2) Brickstreet has agreed not to suspend Broadform coverage(s) for a period of sixty (60) days post July 1, 2010. They graciously did this at the direct request of the Governor to allow for the Legislature to address this matter in the Special Session set for July 19, 2010. This gives the 130+/- departments that would lose their Broadform Liability coverage(s) until September 1, 2010 for this matter to be resolved.
NOTE: There was discussion about how would be the best way to address this issue and whether or not legislative action is needed. It is the opinion of the West Virginia State Fireman’s Association that the best solution is for volunteer fire departments including the Boards of Directors and their Fire Line Officers, as well as any firefighter acting in a role as an Incident or Operational Command Function, have clearly stated statutory immunity similar to that of the whitewater rafting industry except in cases of gross negligence or overt criminal act. There is a Supreme Court case that may offer some immunity from liability but it is important to note that a Supreme Court opinion is based on a defined set of factual circumstances which may not be applicable to all situations and/or sets of facts. Further, the Governor stated that he viewed volunteer fire departments as a part of State government – which is an issue that has been discussed and debated over time. Perhaps this is an issue that needs to also be addressed by the legislature – please, share your thoughts.
3) The greater issue of the future of Worker’s Compensation underwriting for the entire State government was discussed as the Governor voiced concerns that there are entities in State government that also have high loss and/or claims histories. He expressed a desire for us to look at the global issue of addressing everyone’s concerns with regard to rates, classifications, safety, loss reduction, and risk management going into the interims and the next General Legislative session in 2011.
4) The Governor challenged us – West Virginia Fire Fighters- to get our Delegates and Senators informed and educated about our issues, concerns, and wishes with regard to these issues. He wants there to be bipartisan consensus on these issues going into the Special Session and a willingness by all parties to work in good faith towards resolving the bigger Worker’s Compensation issues going into the interims and the 2011 General Legislative session.
5) This is probably the biggest issue for us – the West Virginia fire service…WE HAVE TO WORK HARDER AT BEING AND STAYING SAFE!!! We cannot argue with the facts. Brickstreet CEO Burton indicated that one of the biggest areas of loss is fire fighters responding to and returning from calls. We all must exercise due diligence in ensuring that our responses and returns to service don’t get people injured and/or killed. We also need to take the time to ensure that every reasonable safety practice is followed – proper PPE is used – and hazards are properly identified and addressed.
6) Brickstreet CEO Burton indicated that their company will no longer be writing Worker’s Compensation coverages for volunteer fire departments after July 1, 2011. This means that we, the Governor, and the legislature have our work cut out for us. We cannot make the presumption that “somebody” will step in and fix the problem – all options will need to be out on the table.
As stated, there was a great deal of discussion but there appears to be unquestioned consensus on one (1) issue – that volunteer fire departments are vital to the public safety of the State of West Virginia.
Please forward this information on to your respective County associations and departments.