CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Firefighters, paramedics and other first responders could carry guns if a West Virginia bill is passed.
HB 2916 is now in the hands of the West Virginia Senate after passing unanimously in the House Thursday.
The bill would authorize supervisors to give their employees permission to carry. That includes employees of the attorney general, reserve deputy sheriffs, ambulance crew members, firefighters, rescue squad members, and emergency service personnel.
County commissions could designate personnel "whose duties include homeland security emergency management to carry a handgun in the course of performing his or her official duties."
Any first responder who wants to carry a gun would be required to successfully complete an initial training course then complete annual gun qualification courses.
The bill also would allow the agencies to be reimbursed for the cost of the training.
The legislation was introduced by Del. David Pethtel (D-Wetzel) along with Delegates Roger Hanshaw and Chad Lovejoy.
"Definitely the drug epidemic is making it worse," Pethtel told WSAZ. "They don't know what type of situation they're going to come under."
Pethtel says first responders in Wetzel County brought the issue to his attention.
"They even told me that they have transported people by ambulance before and when they got to the hospital sometimes hospital personnel removed weapons from them," Pethtel said.
Certain protections for liability are also mentioned in the bill.
You can read the full text of the most recent version of the bill.
Ceredo Fire Chief Dave Caudill says he would be all for this bill.
In his nearly 40 years of working for fire departments and EMS, he has almost been shot almost twice and he's also been threatened with other weapons.
"On more than one occasion I've had a knife pulled on me inside a house with basically nowhere to escape to," Caudill said. "It's a very dangerous world out there and you really never know what you're going to get into."
Caudill tells WSAZ that Wayne County is large and there are only so many officers to cover the area. He says it's not uncommon for paramedics to arrive on scene and have to wait 30 to 40 minutes before law enforcement can get there. Sometimes those scene are dangerous and Caudill would like his employees to be able to protect themselves.
"Just because you're there to help, doesn't mean that you're going to get the best treatment in the world," Caudill said. He says the drug epidemic has only made calls more dangerous. "One of my fears is that my people will walk into some type of gun battle between two rival drug groups."
He thinks it's about time legislation like this is passed to help keep first responders safe. He also fully supports proper training before anyone can carry on the job.
Many of his employees already have concealed carry permits.
"It's not for everybody to do, but the ones who have the ability and have the training," Caudill said. "It would be a way to protect our people and also to protect the public."
A similar bill was introduced in the legislature last year, but didn't make it through both chambers.
"It passed late in the session and it got over to the Senate," Pethtel said. "I believe the bill did get through some committees over in the Senate, but it was really late and there were some issues with it that we basically just didn't have time to work out. Hopefully this year we'll be able, if there are any issues, we'll be able to get them worked out and get this bill passed."