|House Committee on Fire Departments and Emergency Medical Services met to consider HB2621 which mandates certification for certain members of fire departments, requires certain types of training, and allows specialized personnel who are not firefighters to be members of a department. The bill also requires the postings of fire department evaluations. A portion of the bill will require Fire Officer 2 training to contain a component focusing on current laws, and rules that government the fire service. It also establishes a mandatory certification program for fire chiefs, or acting chiefs of every fire department, and requires the Fire Commission to propose emergency legislative rules to implement the certification process. In addition, the Commission will set forth the process of denial, suspension, or revocation of fire departments, chiefs, or acting chiefs, along with the conditions under which the certification can be denied, suspended or revoked.
Other training language in the bill requires Firefighter 1 training to contain a section on the operations of both the Fire Commission and Fire Marshal’s Office. It permits non-certified firefighters with specialized training to be members of volunteer fire departments. The bill was amended limiting the actions of specialized members of fire departments who are not certified fire fighters. According to counsel Brian Casto, the support of the firefighting term was too broad because it is hard to characterize a fire fighter as not acting in support of fire fighting so that term was stricken from the bill.
There was an interesting exchange between Delegate Buck Jennings, R-Preston and Fire Marshal Ken Tyree. Jennings was concerned the hours were too much for volunteers to complete the training because of weekend work and other obligations. Tyree said, he needs the chiefs to work with us but if there’s resistance this bill will allow us to take action without our only current recourse of decertification. Department of Homeland Security Counsel, Stacy Nowiki characterized the portion of the bill allowing for suspension of chiefs and acting chiefs as using a scalpel to remove a bad apple from a tree instead of having to use a chainsaw to cut down the entire tree.
Tyree said they’re not looking to remove chiefs, but rather use suspension as an alternative. “We’ve done everything for the past six years to help fire departments. However, if this provision would have been in place the Fire Commission could have worked with the departments to resolve issues. The threat of decertification has worked at times, but we don’t want to affect the entire department if the leader doesn’t care enough about his department to work on resolving issues.”
Delegate Jennings’ told Tyree his issue was the overall process of possible discipline for a chief and the lack of notification, “A fire chief is voted on by department members, I’m not sure why we would move to this type of punishment without a warning.” Tyree told the committee the Commission has found, at times, some departments doing things outside of the law and usually that act has to do with the department’s chief.
He added, he’s not wanting to lessen a volunteers ability to serve the community. Some complaints may be operation in nature so the Fire Marshal can go to a chief to address the situation and work with him. He pointed out that presently, the only alternative is to decertify a fire department. “Suspensions are one thing, but decertification is difficult because that impacts communities. And having enough staff is critical for a fire department to effectively serve the community,” he said.