John Andersen: Volunteer firefighters deserve protection
COMMUNITY COLUMNIST

John Andersen: Volunteer firefighters deserve protection

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Top of the morning to you or top of the evening to you.

The greeting is for whenever you read the Chippewa Herald.

Are you comfortable? Do you need more coffee? How about some other beverage? I wish you to be comfortable for I am going on a rant and a rave.

Comfy? OK, off we go. I want the discrimination against paid on-call and volunteer firefighters to end. That includes my friends who work for paid on-call and volunteer ambulances also. Here is what got my goat.

From the Capital Times: “The Wisconsin State Senate passed a bill Tuesday that removes a barrier for professional police officers and firefighters to file a Worker’s Compensation claim when they get treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. The bill awaits a hearing in the Assembly. The last session’s bill also included volunteer first responders and emergency medical technicians.

“Sen. Lena Taylor, D-Milwaukee, said she would like to see those provisions added this time around. ‘If volunteer firefighters are excluded, and that is the majority, that’s all but 162 of our fire departments in the state of Wisconsin,’ Taylor said. ‘What are we doing?’

“Evan Hafenbreadl, a spokesperson for Sen. André Jacque, R-DePere, one of the bill’s authors, said the issue with extending the bill to volunteers because they don’t pay into Worker’s Compensation, so it’s difficult to write provisions that allow them to pull from it.”

I hate to tell Sen. Jacque, but volunteer firefighters and EMTs do pay into the system. He has staff that could clear that up in a minute.

Volunteer Fire and EMTs are always considered employees. They have employers who pay into work-comp. The Chippewa Fire District has career employees and paid on-call employees. As they are employees, the employer — Chippewa Fire District— pays work comp.

Also, let’s can the word professional. Ful- time fire departments are called career departments. The police are career employees also, though I have never seen a volunteer police officer. There are paid on-call police officers though (part time). The word professional can swing both ways.

PTSD is real and it does not matter how many hours a week you work, be it full time or paid on-call. I just started my 43rd year with the Chippewa Fire District. As a courtesy to you, my dear reader, I will not describe what I have both witnessed and as an Emergency Medical Technician treated. I can tell you that the stress is real and it accumulates.

The stae has a heart-lung bill that volunteer firefighters don’t qualify for. The state has a cancer presumption bill that volunteer firefighters don’t qualify for. Now the Legislature led by Sen. Jacque will not allow volunteers, paid on-call firefighters and EMTs to participate in this bill.

On the local and national media, I see stories all the time on how difficult it is to recruit volunteer and paid on-call firefighters and Emergency Medical Technicians. Here are a few ideas for our legislators. None is too complicated.

Have volunteer and paid on-call firefighters and EMTs qualify for all the benefits a career firefighter or police officer get. If they are killed in the line of duty; free tuition at a tech school or college and free health care for their family.

Let volunteers leave work to respond to a fire in their community with no hassle from the employer.

Make required fire and EMS classes more user friendly.

Instead of a $100 state tax credit, make it a $1,000.

I called Rep. Jesse James’ office. As of Jan. 22, he will not be signing on to the bill because it discriminates again volunteer/paid-on call firefighters and EMTs.

Rep. James is the former public safety director for the city of Altoona. Altoona has a paid on-call fire department.

To be fair, Sen. Jacque said this was but a first step. In my time, the second step never comes. OK I am done with my rant. Have a great day and an excellent weekend.

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