Liz McCormick Published

House Passes Bill to Help Volunteer Fire Departments

West Virginia House of Delegates

With the passage of their budget bill behind them, members of the House are working their way through a number of bills left on their agenda this legislative session. West Virginia Public Broadcasting took a closer look at two of the bills approved in the chamber Thursday.

Seventeen Senate bills were on third reading in the House Thursday and put to a final vote.

One of those was Senate Bill 255, which changes how vacancies in political offices are filled. The bill would require the appointed person be from the same party as the previous office at the time of his or her resignation, not at the time of election.

As it came through the Senate, several senators pointed to former Sen. Daniel Hall as the bill’s motivation.

Hall was a Democrat when elected to the chamber in 2012, but after the 2014 election, the senator switched parties, giving Republicans the majority in that chamber for the first time in over 80 years. In 2016, Hall resigned from the body and the West Virginia Supreme Court was left to rule on which party would fill that vacancy.

The bill passed on a vote of 87 to 10 in the House. All the no votes were from Democrats and from the single Independent member in the chamber.

Another bill considered in the House, Senate Bill 636, requires the State Fire Commission to begin a pilot program to address any problems within the state’s volunteer fire departments. These issues would be in the areas of training, recruitment, or retention.

Delegate Joe Statler, a Republican from Monongalia County, says volunteer firefighters are the first line of defense in the state, but many struggle to keep their doors open. 

Republican Amy Summers of Taylor County questioned Statler about whether this pilot program might end up hurting the volunteer fire departments instead of helping.

“You don’t think that there’s any way that this pilot project could then say to these volunteer fire departments…you can’t function anymore, because you’ve been proven that…you’re not effective, or something of that nature,” Summers asked, “you think this is gonna help the volunteer departments succeed?”

“I actually do believe that it will help,” Statler answered, “If everybody goes into it with the attitude that we’re going to do what we can do to see where we have all these rules and regulations and all this training, and everything else in place, that I believe that this can be a good thing. My biggest fear is, is how many might want to try to get on the pilot program, and we can’t sustain that many people trying to pilot.”

Senate Bill 636 passed 95 to 3.