WELLSBURG - State Auditor Glen B. Gainer III was in town Friday to present checks to three area volunteer fire departments to aid with costs for workers' compensation.
Last year the state Legislature established a $5 million fund to aid the state's many volunteer fire departments in meeting the costs for workers' compensation.
The move was made after Brickstreet, the state-created insurance program for workers' compensation coverage, opted to discontinue coverage for the volunteer departments and the departments were faced with an increased cost for the coverage through other insurance carriers.
HELP FOR FIREFIGHTERS. West Virginia State Auditor Glen B. Gainer III presented checks to three area volunteer fire departments to aid them in meeting workers' compensation costs for members. The money comes from a $5 million fund established by the state Legislature and approved by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. On hand for the presentation Friday were, from left, Joe Cupp, treasurer for the Clearview Fire Department; state Sen. Orphy Klempa, D-Wheeling; state Sen. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg; Michele Scott, secretary for the Bethany Fire Department; Gainer; and Theo Keenan, Colliers fire chief. -- Warren Scott
"We had some departments that shut down because they could no longer afford to operate," said Gainer, who was joined by state Sens. Jack Yost, D-Wellsburg, and Orphy Klempa, D-Wheeling, who were among legislators who supported a bill establishing the fund.
Through the fund volunteer fire departments receive the difference between the amount of the premium paid to Brickstreet and the amount paid to a new carrier.
The Colliers department received $8,203; Bethany, $18,253; and Clearview in Ohio County, $4,466.
That amount varies according to a department's number of active members, hours of manpower during the previous fiscal year and other factors, explained Colliers Fire Chief Theo Keenan.
He noted workers' compensation coverage is needed for both emergency calls and training because injuries can occur in either.
Gainer noted the fund helps fire departments to pay the initial premium for the year. That premium can rise during the year depending on the number of claims made, he said.
To be eligible for assistance through the fund, a fire department must meet criteria set by the state Fire Marshal's Office, register with the state auditor and agree the subsidy will be paid directly to the insurer.
Gainer said since the three-year program was begun, departments have been reimbursed for amounts ranging from $35,000 to less than $1,000.
He said 400 of the state's 432 volunteer fire departments received funds last year, and he expects all to be assisted this year.
"The checks going out this year are larger than the ones last year," Gainer said.
He said the fund could be depleted next year, and state legislators could be asked to allocate more funds.
Gainer said the fund is only a temporary solution to the department's funding problems, which also include meeting the same training requirements set for paid departments and the rising cost for equipment.
"We need to find a funding solution for the volunteer fire departments in general," he said.
Gainer said, "Volunteer firefighters are called on every day to risk their lives protecting neighbors, homes and businesses. The costs associated with safely equipping and protecting those brave professionals is rising every day as well. This program will help mitigate at least one of the upcoming increases."
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)