(06/10/2010)
By Bob Weaver

Volunteer fire departments in rural West Virginia, beyond firefighting, have become first responders in most emergency situations from accidents to disasters.

Many of those departments are against the survival wall.

West Virginia legislators are now looking at possible options to relieve sharp increases in Workers' Compensation premiums, effective July 1.

The problems are having an adverse effect on Calhoun's three volunteer fire departments.

If volunteer fire departments shut down, residents would see their homeowners' premiums nearly triple, according to Insurance Commission Rates and Forms director Tonya Gillespie.

This is the final year that BrickStreet Mutual is mandated by law to offer coverage, then departments will have to find new coverage, with officials saying they will be hard-pressed to do.

The current worker's compensation rates have been low for years, and BrickStreet says they pay out far more than they take in. BrickStreet says they have a 700% loss on VFD claims.

Sen. Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said it could be in the state's best interest to subsidize those premiums.

Homeowners' premiums are generally calculated on a formula based on quality of fire protection available, on a scale from 1 (superior fire coverage) to 10 (no fire service available.)

A drop from a 6 rating to a 10 would result in premium hikes averaging 172 percent.

The legislature during recent sessions has attempted to increase incentives to attract new firemen and reward long-time firemen, without any action.


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