In an era where states are scrambling to expand coverage to First Responders, it is interesting to see that one state, Pennsylvania, is engaged in a slightly different debate. While many jurisdictions are adding PTSD coverage and automatic presumptions regarding a wide range of cancer and cardiovascular conditions for their ranks of professional First Responders, Pennsylvania is currently trying to make sure that all those that work on behalf of volunteer fire departments have some protections for the time that they serve.
Senate Bill 94 is designed to close a gap created when the state passed legislation providing workers’ compensation coverage to volunteers injured when engaging in active firefighting. That effort, it seems, excluded those volunteers who were working to support volunteer agencies but were not active firefighters. In sparsely populated regions of the country, volunteer firefighting agencies are a pretty important component, and it takes a significant amount of work behind the scenes to keep them operational. Some volunteers injured in non-firefighting activities were apparently being left without adequate protections.
According to the Wyoming County Press Examiner, “the bill was sparked when a volunteer was injured at a fundraising event for the fire company. The volunteer was worried they weren’t covered by workers’ compensation because it didn’t happen while responding to a call. Previously, those covered were firefighters and EMS/rescue workers who put themselves at risk in the line of duty.”
The bill was introduced by state Sen. Scott Martin and co-sponsored by 18 other lawmakers. It passed the Senate on February 3, 2020.
The issue of protecting volunteer firefighters has surfaced and been addressed in other states over recent years. This debate, however, rightly looks at protecting the “invisible volunteer.” In many of these rural communities, firefighting agencies have no administrative budgets. The entire operation is run by people who volunteer their time to make sure the agency is up to the task of protecting the area it serves. These duties can range from general cleaning to fundraising to routine maintenance and upkeep of facilities. To offer protections to only the volunteers that “go out in the field” is to leave equally important people unprotected on the job.
The bill moves to the House now for consideration. In the world of workers’ comp, this isn’t exactly earth-shaking news; but it is refreshing to find a legislative effort directed at First Responders that feels fair to everyone for a change.