KINGWOOD — Some Preston County firefighters say a new law on training for fire chiefs and limits for junior firefighters is unnecessary.
Recently, representatives of five of the county’s 12 volunteer fire departments — Kingwood, Masontown, Newburg, Reedsville and Tunnelton — met to discuss House Bill 2621. The bill passed both House and the Senate and was sent to the governor March 30 for his signature.
“It’s the old story of you’ve got somebody breaking the rules and you don’t tend to them — you make everybody pay for it,” Newburg Fire Chief Bill Larew said.
He said a fire chief elsewhere in the state allowed junior firefighters to respond to a call, and they were injured. That’s already covered by existing laws that restrict juveniles from responding with fire departments, Larew said, so no new laws were needed.
One section of the legislation calls for the state Fire Commission to propose emergency legislative rules on what activities junior firefighters can participate in.
The state fire marshal also already has the power to deny certification to any fire department in West Virginia if it is not in compliance with all laws and regulations, Larew said.
“It’s just one more cut in the death by 1,000 cuts,” he said.
“Punish the person, not the organization,” Reedsville Fire Chief Scott Spiker said.
The law calls for all training approved by the state Fire Commission for Fire Officer 2 to “contain a section on current laws, rules and regulations governing the fire service.” All training for Firefighter 1 also is to contain a section on the operation of the Fire Marshal’s Office and the state Fire Commission.
The state Fire Marshal’s Office did not respond to questions in time for this report.
Another new provision in the legislation calls for the state Fire Commission to certify all fire chiefs or acting chiefs. The commission is to propose emergency legislative rules for this.
Craig Barlow of the Tunnelton Volunteer Fire Department said he would like to know more about what rules will be written.
If any chief or acting chief doesn’t follow the laws, rules and regulations or allows the department to flaunt the laws, rules or regulations, the state Fire Commission can deny, suspend or revoke the department’s certification.
A new section of code in the legislation requires the state Fire Commission to “develop procedures to authorize persons with specialized training, but who are not certified as firefighters, to be members of a volunteer fire department to only perform specialized functions, none of which shall be or include firefighting.” Specialized functions can include swift water rescue, search and rescue, trench rescue and confined space rescue.
Barlow wondered from where the specialized training will come. “It doesn’t break it down far enough,” he said.
The legislation also requires fire departments to post the fire marshal’s most recent evaluation of a department in a conspicuous place, where it can be seen by the public as well as department members.
Larew said 13 bills were introduced this year that would have affected fire departments, and he wishes legislators had spent more time working on others that would have helped departments, such as by limiting their liability in lawsuits and limiting the use of some fire retardant foams that can be carcinogenic.
Spiker and Barlow said they wished legislators would seek out firefighters’ opinions on bills that are proposed.
“We do this because we like what we do and serving our communities, but you get kicked in the face enough times, you get tired of it,” Larew said.