WSAZ | Charleston, West Virginia | News

UPDATE: Local Volunteer Fire Departments Concerned About Workers Comp

By: Charly Arnolt; Michael Hyland; Sarah Sager Email
By: Charly Arnolt; Michael Hyland; Sarah Sager Email

UPDATE 2/8/11 @ 11:22 P.M.
CEREDO, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Brick Street Mutual Insurance Company plans to drop workers compensation for all volunteer fire departments in West Virginia in a few months. And if workers comp isn't available for volunteers, neither are the services.

In Wayne County, Dave Caudill, Chief of the Ceredo Fire Department, is trying to ensure their services don’t go away.

"We have to provide workers compensation for our people. That's not an option that we have to do away with. If it's not available, that's a problem. If we can't afford it, that's a problem," Caudill said.

In Cabell County, Barboursville Fire Chief Paul Hockenberry is also dealing with the problem.

"We're fighting fires for the people, but we're fighting a fire for the insurance companies, to save them money protecting what we can for them. They're going to have to do something. It worries me," Hockenberry said.

While Barboursville recently gained four new volunteer firefighters, Ceredo's department is down 20.

In Wayne County, if fire departments don’t run, neither does EMS services.

"In an average year, we'll have around 110 fire calls. We'll have over 800 EMS calls," Caudill said.

Currently there isn't a single EMS worker in Ceredo at night, and Caudill is afraid it's going to get worse.

"I'm going to have to cut my roster of people. I'm going to have to get rid of some people I really can't afford to get rid of," said Caudill.

West Virginia legislators are currently trying to find a solution, and Caudil hopes they find one soon.

"I hope that this doesn't become a backburner issue that they have to solve at the last hour of the session, because I'm afraid if it goes to that, not only are the fire departments going to lose, but the citizens are going to lose also," Caudill said.

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin recently allocated $ 2.5 million to a Volunteer Firefighters Worker's Compensation Relief Fund to pay for the increase in premiums.

Caudill hopes West Virginia lawmakers will use Kentucky and Ohio as models for how to run volunteer departments.

Brick Street Insurance Company plans to not renew workers compensation policies with any volunteer fire departments in West Virginia beginning July 1.



UPDATE 1/8/11 @ 10:45 P.M.
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- It's a new year and new legislation is in the works for the entire region. Things from budget issues to education laws will be discussed this coming week by senate and house members in every state. West Virginia, Kentucky and Ohio all have very diverse agendas, but one thing they all have one thing in common is a few key issues that stir up lots of emotion.

The bill preview begins in Kentucky. At stake is a proposed statewide indoor smoking ban for all public places, including bars and restaurants.

"I don't smoke and people if want to do it in their own homes I don't have a problem with that, but when I'm out in a restaurant I don't like to sit around people smoking cigarettes," Kentucky resident Timothy Barney said.

"A person that does smoke should have the right to come to a place and sit down and enjoy themselves," Kentucky resident Tim Harris rebutted.

In Ohio, all attention is turned to guns. Should gun owners be allowed to carry concealed weapons into places that serve alcohol?

"Everybody needs one. You never know when a person is gonna break in on you or something like that," Ohioan Wallace Smith said.

"I wouldn't be in favor of that because for one thing when people begin to drink, their attitudes change and sometimes tempers might flare," Ohio resident Sueann Harvey said.

Rounding it up in West Virginia is the education debate, where senators are targeting truancy.. If a student has five unexcused absences parents get a warning. Ten absences and the parents' driver's license is gone.

"In a way it's a little extreme but I know that parents need to be aware of if their kids are missing a good amount of school," West Virginia resident Melissa Burton said.

"I'm not in favor of it because you know it's not the parents fault if the kids are skipping school. How are they to know?," West Virginia resident Tina Pyles asked. "It is up to the school to keep sure that these kids are not walking off campus."

As state legislatures gears up for their first full week in session, one guest guaranteed to be in attendance everywhere is controversy.


CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- The West Virginia legislative session is just days away, and it appears to be a busy year for state lawmakers.

It begins Wednesday, and already state leaders and several groups are lobbying with many different goals in mind.

From elections to education, some people are concerned there's just too much going on this year and they will not have their concerns adequately heard.

Issues related to a potential special election for the governor’s seat and future succession issues could dominate much of the time.

Since this year follows a U.S. census year, legislators will also be tasked with redistricting efforts.

Meanwhile, some people are facing serious money issues, and are looking for help.

Changes to workers’ compensation insurance for volunteer fire departments have some organizations looking at a 600 to 700 percent jump in premiums.

"It's just going to be devastating to us. There are just so many dollars that can be generated within the local communities," says Jim Oldaker, chief of Alum Creek volunteer fire department and president of the West Virginia State Firemen’s Association.

But, the firemen see this is a tough year with a lot of people are vying for attention over issues such as who should be running the state and taxes on businesses.

Plus, there are a lot of unresolved issues related to the classroom.

"West Virginia is one of very few states that doesn't allow any charter schools. And, we think some charter schools in West Virginia would be helpful," says Steve Roberts, president of the West Virginia Chamber of Commerce, which unveiled its legislative agenda Thursday.

As part of that agenda, the organization calls for the establishment of an intermediate court of appeals and single-member legislative districts.

But, a main focus is for the group is education and a call for enhanced technology use and teacher performance in the classroom.

Of course, you have to get kids there first.

"If a child is not in the classroom, they're not learning, Then it's going to be a problem that we're going to have to address as taxpayers down the road because they're not going to be employed as well," says state Sen. Erik Wells, D-Kanawha.

Wells is pushing a plan that would affect parents' drivers’ licenses.

If a student has five unexcused absences, parents would get a warning. Their licenses would be revoked at ten unexcused absences.

"If [parents] are not doing their job, we can't expect teachers and educators to be doing their job effectively either," Wells says.

Speaking of those jobs, union leaders are concerned that lower salaries are causing many teachers to leave the state.

"We're basically concerned because we want to keep those good teachers here," says Cynthia Phillips, vice president of the West Virginia of the American Federation of Teachers.

Acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin (D) has indicated he supports pay raises for teachers.

But, some lawmakers are skeptical, saying they doubt the money is in the budget to make that happen.

Tomblin will unveil more of his legislative priorities during his State of the State address Wednesday evening.


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