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New state bill could help protect firefighters

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State lawmakers are working on a bill that would help protect firefighters and their families. If passed, senate bill 1221, would add some clarification to the already existing Workers Compensation Act.

Senator Scott Martin, a sponsor of the bill, says right now there is a discrepancy over whether the states Workers Compensation Act is required to cover auxiliary emergency workers, such as volunteer firefighters and fire police.

The bill would clarify that volunteer emergency workers who are hurt in the line of duty would be covered by the state workers insurance fund.

Senator Martin says while the state workers insurance fund has paid claims for auxiliary workers in the past, in recent years some volunteer fire companies were denied claims. The Senator says not only does this potentially leave volunteers and their families in a dire situation - in the case of an injury - it discourages people from volunteering at all.

“A good portion of not only this area of the state, throughout the commonwealth and a lot of other states, rely heavily on volunteers.” Senator Martin says. “It’s a tight knit community and we need those folks. We should be making decisions in Harrisburg that actually encourage volunteerism because it’s our way of saying thank you for doing what you do. We’ve got your back in case something bad happens when you’re on the job.”

The bill was introduced to the Labor and Industry Committee back in July; it'll have to pass committee before being voted on in the House.

Sb1221 would amend the Workers Compensation Act to specify who is included under the definition of “members of volunteer fire departments or volunteer fire companies.” They include:

An active volunteer firefighter responding to emergency calls

A member of a fire police unit affiliated with a volunteer fire department or volunteer fire company

An officer or director of a volunteer fire department or fire company

A participating member of a volunteer fire department of volunteer fire company who provides necessary operational support, but does not respond to emergency calls.

Operational support must be conducted on a regular basis as approved at the beginning of the year and includes:

  • Maintaining the station and equipment
  • Acting as a trustee
  • Organizing fundraisers
  • Providing support
  • Assisting with recruitment and other administrative task

It does not include being a social member of the volunteer fire department or volunteer fire company.

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