(09/06/2012)
More new rules affecting West Virginia's volunteer fire departments could put some of them out of commission.

The West Virginia Fire Commission is considering a major rule change that would require professional and volunteer fire companies in the Mountain State to abide by an entire set of national safety and training rules.

Not only would the new regulations diminish the rank of volunteer firemen, a problem that has already reached a crisis level in most parts of West Virginia, but the new rules would be very costly to implement.

The proposal was discussed in a a public hearing Friday in Charleston and several firefighters spoke out against it.

West Virginia State Firemens Association Vice President John Holstein says the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association) standards are good ones but taken as a whole they are not affordable in West Virginia.

"We don't want to fight training. We don't want to fight safety. That's a given, but in order to get to those points we've got to make smaller steps. And adopting all of these at once is just something that is not possible," Holstein said.

Regarding implementation, "That would shut down fire service in West Virginia," he said.

Volunteer fire departments have already been facing problems with staffing and keeping up with costs.

If adopted, fire departments could face as many as 90 changes and Holstein says 50 of the standards would cost $18,000 a year each to implement.

"That's somewhere in the neighborhood of $900,000 per department," he said.

"We have right at 400 volunteer fire departments in the state and that would be somewhere in the neighborhood of 360-million dollars a year that we would be looking at and that's just overwhelming."

Professional fire departments would also be impacted.

"I don't know of a fire department in the state that could financially support doing this at anytime in the near future let alone all at once," Holstein said.

Holstein says there would be criminal liability for the leaders of fire departments if the standards were to be approved and not fully followed.

The state Fire Commission meets next week and could decide by the end of the week whether to go forward with the adoption.

The WV legislature would have the final say.


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