Worker’s Comp Changes Have Volunteer Fire Departments Demanding Action
Charleston, West Virginia – June 14, 2010
The West Virginia State Fireman’s Association and the West Virginia State Fire Chief’s Association are concerned that changes in Worker’s Compensation may seriously impact the volunteer fire service in the State of West Virginia. On April 26, 2010 the State’s only provider of Worker’s Compensation Insurance sent a notice to all of the volunteer fire departments in the State informing them that their premiums would increase by as much as 99% and that as of July 1, 2010 they would no longer renew the Broadform Liability coverage that provided an umbrella of protection should Worker’s Compensation claims be denied because the occupational injury occurred in a hazardous environment.
Broadform is a type of insurance that provides coverage to the officer and directors of an organization that have to send their employees – in this case, firefighters – into hazardous environments to do their jobs. “As just about everything we do involves some sort of hazard, the loss of this coverage is critical to how we operate. There are departments questioning as to whether they can continue to operate without liability protections.” said Paula Smith, President of the West Virginia State Fireman’s Association. Volunteer fire departments were the only occupational classification to be singled out for the non-renewal of Broadform coverages.
The drastic premium increases have hit already cash strapped volunteer fire departments especially hard. One example is the Wayne Volunteer Fire Department whose premium jumped by a staggering $24,000.00. “For volunteer fire departments already struggling to pay for fire trucks, fuel, equipment, and mandated training, this news couldn’t have come at a worse time. Many don’t know how they will continue to keep the doors open.” said Gary Bonnett, Chief of the Banks District Volunteer Fire Department and President of the West Virginia State Fire Chief’s Association.
At a meeting of the West Virginia State Fire Commission in Huntington on Friday, June 11, the potential loss of volunteer fire department service to the State was described as, “potentially catastrophic in terms of property loss and loss of life…” by a representative the Insurance Services Office, an organization that assesses risks for insurance companies. In response to the information presented, the State Fire Commission unanimously adopted a resolution to be sent to the Governor and the Legislature asking for immediate action on these issues in order to prevent any decrease and/or interruption in services provided by volunteer fire departments in the State.
Both the West Virginia State Fireman’s Association and the West Virginia State Fire Chief’s Association hope that the Governor will call a special session just to address these issues, or place it on the agenda of another special session anticipated to deal with education issues. “The time for action is now. No one knows what will happen July 1 if something isn’t done to resolve this crisis. Departments will have to make tough decisions and that decision may decide to shut down until they can adequately protect their members…they may have no other choice.” said Chief Jim Oldaker of the Alum Creek Volunteer Fire Department, a member of both associations. He added, “Nobody wants to see a department shut down but this is the reality we face.”
This is a joint press release from the West Virginia State Fireman’s Association and the West Virginia State Fire Chief’s Association. The West Virginia State Fireman’s Association was founded over 80 years ago and represents over 200 volunteer fire departments across the State of West Virginia. The West Virginia State Fire Chief’s Association represents the Fire Chiefs and Fire Line Officers of over 100 fire departments across the State. Both organizations have representatives on the State Fire Commission.
Thomas D. Miller
Legislative Committee, WV State Fireman’s Association
West Virginia State Fireman’s Association, President Paula Smith, Benwood Volunteer Fire Department, and the West Virginia State Fire Chief’s Association, President Gary Bonnett, Banks District Volunteer Fire Department.