WVSFA Legislative News
By: John Holstein, WVSFA 3rd VP, Legislative Committee and Publicity Chair
President Oldaker and approximately 20 members of the West Virginia State Firemen’s Association were on-hand for Governor Tomblin’s State of the State Address on Wednesday (Jan 11) in the House Chambers of the West Virginia State Capitol. Some of the issues discussed with the Governor and Law Makers were pointed toward recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters, the on going struggle with volunteer departments and their workers compensation coverage issues and firefighter training.
Encouraging words were spoken to WVSFA representatives by members of both Houses of the Legislature. Law makers seem to understand the increased pressure volunteers are under concerning dwindling roster numbers.
Doug Estep of Morrisvale VFD summarized our plight very succinctly: “…the real worry isn’t when we [the volunteer firefighters] show up to the Capitol by the hundreds. You [the Governor] should be worried when there’s just a hand full of us here.” Since 2005, it’s been estimated that as many as 2500 volunteer firefighters have left the service. This is an estimated 20% decrease in the number of participating volunteer firefighters across the State of West Virginia. This number corresponds with National figures, showing an overall decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters and the drop in the number of volunteers for many other organizations.
In the State of West Virginia, volunteer fire departments make up approximately 94% of the fire departments in the state. Of which, approximately 80% of the State’s population is covered by volunteers. The delegates and senators have acknowledged their understanding of our drop in numbers. In recent years, efforts were started, left uncompleted, toward initiating plans for increasing the volunteerism (overall) in the State. During a discussion with former Governor Manchin, now Senator Manchin stated “…volunteering in our communities is extremely important. We must increase the number of volunteers for all of our organizations. It’s important to our families and it’s important to our State.”
During the upcoming Legislative session, important issues such as firefighter training, recruitment & retention and worker compensation will dominate our efforts. Through the hard work and determination of the Legislative committee of the West Virginia State Firemen’s Association during the 2011 Legislative Session and negotiations with the Governor’s office, law makers and the Executive branch were both able to fund our workers compensation needs with 2.5 million dollars each for a total of 5 million dollars. This money, being overseen by Auditor Glenn Gainer’s office, has allowed the increase in worker’s compensation premiums to be offset so that volunteer fire departments are able to keep their doors open.
Auditor Gainer, a staunch advocate of volunteer fire departments, was on hand last night to discuss several pressing issues. Auditor Gainer was well versed in our struggles and noted the need for an easier way for firefighters to get the training they need in order to safely perform their duties. “…the 5 million dollars obtained during last session has been a blessing.” He further stated that he understands that the firefighters must go back to the Legislature and ask for that money again. “…we need a permanent solution.”