If you recall from the last newsletter, I approached the Fire Service Alliance over a year ago seeking assistance in exploring options to the soaring Worker’s Compensation premiums Missouri’s fire service is experiencing. Today we continue to see departments being forced to reduce their ranks, especially within the volunteer departments, due to increased premium costs. Stepping up to assist in identifying potential options were now retired Chief Larry Boyle in conjunction with the Missouri Association of Fire Protection Districts. It was determined that the initial task was to formulate a short survey to collect preliminary information from Missouri’s fire service.
The survey was distributed via e-mail and I want to thank those who responded. I am pleased to report efforts are moving forward due to your responses. Before a comprehensive feasibility study could be conducted a minimum of two million dollars in premium costs expended by departments needed to be established. Approximately 120 departments responded to the survey indicating nearly seven million dollars is being expended annually for Worker’s Compensation coverage.
As we continue moving forward with the feasibility study, more detailed information will be required from as many departments as possible and will be collected in a similar survey manner. Every effort will be made to ensure the process to collect these details will be designed to keep your time commitment to a minimum. To be successful, the more information that can be collected the more complete and accurate picture will be established in relation to current worker’s compensation issues. Ultimately, the option being explored would establish a trust that would include virtually hundreds of Missouri fire departments allowing for potential reduced premiums. A similar program exists in Colorado and was a viable option for Colorado’s fire service. Establishing such a trust will take considerable time and effort and too must be endorsed by Missouri’s Division of Insurance. Understand this is simply an option being explored with no guarantee this effort will be successful, however, remaining idle will no doubt continue to cost Missouri’s fire service. Please stay tuned and respond when additional information is requested. If you have any questions or need further information please do not hesitate to contact me.
Legislative proposals which passed this session either have been signed by the Governor or await his signature or possible veto. If these are successful they will be effective on August 28th. The following is a short summary of each bill.
HB28 – authorizes any county, upon determination by State Fire Marshal that it is appropriate, by order or ordinance to issue a burn ban. Ban may prohibit the discharging of any missile or skyrocket but may not ban any other consumer firework. (Pending signature)
HB103/SB282 – increases penalty for a moving violation occurring in an active emergency zone and creates the offense of endangerment of an emergency responder. (Signed by Governor)
HB256 – removes the sunset date on a portion of the Sunshine Law which will prevent the disclosure of operational guidelines and policies by and public agency responsible for law enforcement, public safety, first response or public health which include response plans which would threaten public safety if released. (Signed by Governor)
HB307 – a political subdivision cannot prohibit any first responder from engaging in any political activity while off duty and not in uniform, or from being a candidate for elected or appointed public office unless otherwise prohibited by state law. Allows for the certification as a community paramedic. Allows a person employed by the state or any of its political subdivision to hold office as a director of a fire protection district in Boone, Callaway and Cole counties. Allows candidate filing fee to be increased by fire protection district up to $50. (Signed by Governor)
HB336 – similar to HB307 relating to first responders engaging in political activities while off duty and not in uniform as well as community paramedic language. (Signed by Governor)
SB170 – allows members of public governmental bodies to cast roll call votes if the member is participating via videoconferencing. (Pending signature)
SB533 – authorizes a paid, full-time fire chief of a fire department or fire protection district to carry a concealed weapon upon written approval of the governing body of the department or district and possess a valid concealed carry endorsement. (Pending signature)
The Division’s budget bill has also been signed by Governor Nixon. Although significant efforts were exhausted during the legislative session, the additional $200,000 for firefighter training was not successful.
Appropriations beginning July 1st for firefighter training will be slightly reduced from this past year. Three funding sources for firefighter training include general revenue, fire education fund, and chemical emergency preparedness fund totaling nearly $400,000. Each May the Fire Safety Education and Advisory Commission reviews training proposals from vendors who desire to contract with the Division to deliver a variety of training courses targeting Missouri’s fire service. This past May, eighteen vendors submitted proposals seeking approximately $1.1 million. With limited funds, obviously not all proposals were successful. As courses begin to be scheduled all will be posted to the Division’s website and available for review via www.dfs.dps.mo.gov/programs/training/. These training opportunities are available at no cost through the funding sources mentioned above.
Unfortunately mass casualty shootings have captured much attention with one of the most recent tragedies occurring at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 where 20 children were killed. Nationwide between the Columbine High School tragedy and Sandy Hook there have been 140 shooting related incidents in schools. The mind-set that “it will never happen here” needs to change with the appropriate tools made available to address these situations.
As typical with such incidents, immediately afterwards school and public safety officials scramble to implement immediate changes to eliminate the possibility of such an incident happening in their jurisdiction. Although this brings a sense of heightened awareness to the forefront, knee jerk reactions seem to be more prevalent during this time frame. Shortly after Sandy Hook, the Division fielded a number of calls expressing concerns over school and public safety officials urging the installation of keyed dead bolt locks on all classrooms disregarding fire safety considerations.
The Division, in conjunction with the Fire Marshal’s Association of Missouri, determined the need to provide an avenue in order to open communication lines between law enforcement, fire service and school officials. The goal is to identify and establish a process to implement and disseminate “best practices” in these situations. With this in mind, and the desire to establish consistent “best practices” I would encourage you to attend the upcoming School Safety and Security session to be held during the annual Fire Marshal’s Association of Missouri’s conference at Tan-Tar-A. On July 31st a four hour training session is scheduled specifically targeting this topic. Facilitating the session will be Louisiana State Fire Marshal Butch Browning who is the chairman of a school safety and security sub-committee for the National Association of State Fire Marshal’s Association. This session will be a round table format with panel members representing various disciplines and key stakeholders. There is no cost to attend this session.
June was a sad month for Missouri’s fire service with the passing of two long time fire service fixtures. Chief John Sachen devoted over 60 years of his life to the fire service and was instrumental in training thousands of firefighters not only in Missouri but other states as well. On June 26th, Lee Ireland of Neosho passed away after a sudden illness. Just as John did, Lee started his fire service career at a young age and too was a mentor to Missouri’s fire service in conjunction with this training position with MU FRTI. The fire service lost a tremendous wealth of knowledge with the loss of John and Lee. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them, their families and fellow firefighters.
Hope to see many of you at the State Fair in August.