Legislators Work With Volunteer Firefighters For Job Protection

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An area legislator is working to improve the rights of volunteer firefighters. House Bill 256 was introduced by Representative Jim Decesare on January 6th to prohibit employers from terminating a volunteer firefighter who is absent from work because of injuries incurred in the line of duty.

Jim Decesare, (R) 21st, says: "It's just the right thing to do. And I sort of compared them with our national guard. You know when they go off to duty overseas their jobs are protected. Well, these men and women here locally in the state of Kentucky our volunteer firefighters and EMT's we need to protect them as well. So if they are injured in the line of duty make sure their jobs are safe when they come back."

The bill would allow employers to request specified information about an injury from the appropriate fire chiefs and physicians. The bill stems from the plight of a local volunteer firefighter who found himself without a job after he was injured at a fire.

The fire on Secretariat Drive last September is a night Woodburn Volunteer Firefighter Jeramie Vance will never forget.

Vance says: "Me and another firefighter was fighting the structure from the outside and a wall collapsed on us."

Vance's fellow firefighters took care of his medical needs before he was taken to Vanderbilt Medical Center.

Vance says: "I had a broken vertebrae. C4 in my neck. And I also had a bruised nerve."

When his recovery was complete and doctors gave him the go-ahead to return to work, Vance called his employer to tell them he'd be returning. Only to find out they had given his job to another person.

Vance says: "They told me, due to the fact that I was off, and my injury happened outside of work, I was never granted a medical leave, even though the situation and they had just replaced me and they didn't need my services anymore."

Woodburn Fire Chief, Bob Skipper, says: "Until this incident happened, nobody really thought about that fact that there was no protection from jobs, if a firefighter was to get hurt and be off from work for a little while."

Skipper says only a few states offer protection for volunteer firefighters.

Skipper says: "We all have full time jobs in addition to when we volunteer. We all have families to take care of. If we don't have some sort of protection and if we face the possibility of losing a job, losing our income because of volunteering. Then there's no sense in volunteering."

Vance and Skipper are working with legislators to have laws passed offering more protection for volunteer firefighters. Now Vance has a new employer.

He says: "They're very supportive of what I do and what all we're trying to do now."

To check the status on House Bill 256 and others, go to our home page and click on Kentucky Votes.