(01/22/2009)
State Sen. Ed Bowman says the issue of funding and retaining volunteer firefighters is a local issue, not to be addressed by state government.

Volunteer fire departments cover most West Virginia communities.

Their membership and ability to deliver service is at risk.

Bowman says this isn't the time for the state to establish a retirement pension plan for volunteer firefighters.

Volunteer firefighters don't call it a pension.

They refer to it as a "defined award based on long-time service to a community and the state of West Virginia," according to information from the West Virginia Firemen's Association.

Bowman, D-Hancock, chairman of the Senate Committee on Government Organization, believes representatives of volunteer fire departments in the state will lobby the Legislature this year to establish the benefit for volunteer firefighters.

"I intend to take this case out to the general public. The issue will be decided by the voice of West Virginia, who will let their legislators know if they support it."

If they do, I'll live with it."

But I believe that the majority - if they know we are creating another tax - will think as I do. And they will say, 'No way.'"

The firemen's association describes its Length of Service Awards Plan as a defined benefit to a volunteer firefighter who has served 20 active years on a volunteer fire department.

"If there is lack of fire protection in any area, it is a local issue that should be dealt with at a local level," Bowman said.

"Local governments can impose fire service fees to fund fire or police protection."

"As people are losing their pensions, we're going to create another one?"

"West Virginia is a rural state, and it is mostly covered by volunteer fire departments," he noted. "They are having difficulty with recruitment and retention of members. They have some older folks that remain there, but they need some young folks."


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