Posted: Jul 9, 2012 11:06 AM by Marnee Banks - MTN News
Nearly 12,000 people volunteer to protect Montana from fires and other natural disasters, and according to a Montana legislative report, many rural volunteer fire departments do not have workers compensation coverage, so lawmakers are trying to figure out a way to protect them.
Laurence Hubbard, president and CEO of Montana State Fund, noted, "When we have an active fire season we see more injuries on the job to both regular firefighters, paid ones, and volunteers. So it becomes more of a public issue during an active fire season."
Hubbard explained, "Funding is the issue. I think that is where the debate is ultimately going to lie, because as I said earlier there is access to workers compensation coverage for volunteers. It's in place in the current law. I think the issue for counties and districts is the funding."
It's estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 Montana firefighters don't have workers compensation coverage.
Montana State Senator Tom Facey (D-Missoula) is proposing a bill which requires all fire departments to cover their volunteers.
Facey said, "When you are battling a wildland fire or a structural fire, accidents happen and we just don't want those firefighters to be left holding the bag financially for providing fire coverage for our communities."
Facey says the legislation would allow County Commissions to increase property taxes in order to help pay for the policies.
Facey plans to bring his bill before the Economic Affairs Committee during its next meeting for a vote.
He says regardless of whether the committee endorses it or not, he will carry the bill during the next legislative session.