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Fire bill could benefit VFDs

W.Va. Senate
Mar. 08, 2013 @ 11:59 PM

CHARLESTON -- A bill was introduced Thursday in the West Virginia Senate to increase the surcharge on fire and casualty insurance policies, which would go into a state fund to benefit volunteer or part-time volunteer fire departments.

The bill, whose sponsors include Sen. Bob Plymale, D-Wayne, would increase the current surcharge from .55 percent to a full 1 percent. The money would only benefit the fire departments, unlike previous surcharge legislation that also funded the teacher retirement reserve fund from 1992 to June 30, 2005, then July 1, 2005 through Dec. 31, 2005, to the Public Employees Insurance Agency.

Similar bills have been introduced since 2005 but have never come to fruition. That has David Caudill, chief for the Ceredo Volunteer Fire Department, less than hopeful this time around.

"Quite frankly I have no anticipation that it will pass," Caudill said. "After 35 years you get callous. The legislature is all talk ... they find a million ways not to do it."

However, he said his department and the other 443 volunteer departments throughout the state could stand to really gain from the surcharge. Worker's compensation rates keep going up, and other things get squeezed from budgets to meet that requirement, just so the doors can stay open.

"That money would be imperative to a lot of departments," said Captain Andrew Frazier from the Barboursville Volunteer Fire Department. "Where worker's comp premiums have increased, it can help offset that and pay for other essential equipment."

Both Caudill and Frazier mentioned training, which is required by state code. But departments have to find ways to fund books, class registration and sometimes travel.

For Ceredo's department, Caudill said it would be a $40,000 increase to his budget each year. That would pay for new protective gear to replace some that is more than 30 years old, he said.

"In 18 months, by federal requirements, we'll have to replace 40 air bottles," Caudill said. "Those are $700 a piece."

Both also mentioned maintenance for the fire trucks and other equipment.

"There are all kinds of benefits that would happen if this bill would pass," Frazier said.

The bill will head to the Senate Committee on Banking and Insurance, then to the Committee on Finance. If it becomes law, the money from the policy surcharge would go into a special account, designated as Fire Protection Fund. Proceeds would be distributed quarterly to volunteer fire departments equally.

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