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State volunteers another volunteer protection

By Paul Snyder

This is a pretty active legislative session for volunteer firefighters, emergency medical technicians and first responders.

In addition to a bill already out there dealing with their right to unpaid leaves of absences, a new bill updating the state’s worker’s compensation law is giving them a bit of protection on their way to and from an accident.

The bill, a product of the Wisconsin Worker’s Compensation Advisory Council, simply extends the benefits of compensation coverage for volunteers traveling to and from an emergency, according to Jeff Beiriger, a member of the council executive director of the American Subcontractors Association of Wisconsin.

I will admit that I thought I had a really good story when I first read the bill and misunderstood it to mean a private employer of a volunteer would be on the hook for providing worker’s compensation for injuries sustained in the line of volunteer duty.

Given the number of volunteers in the construction industry, I could imagine a few employers not being too excited about having to consider worker’s comp BEYOND the dangers faced in an already pretty hazardous line of work.

But Beiriger said that would not be the case — the public entity in charge, for example the fire department, would be on the hook to provide worker’s comp, not the private employer. Oh well, so long fiery story.

But it did stop and make me consider that a volunteer speeding to the scene of an accident or fire might not be covered if they got into their own accident along the way.

I’ve never been the wheelman in a situation where I had to get up at 5 a.m. and book it up to a nearby town to put out a fire, but I can imagine the adrenaline rush mixed with the lethargy coming out of a deep sleep might be an iffy combination.

Given that you don’t know what other drivers are thinking at the best of times, it’s probably not out of line to think that an accident or two might occur.

There hasn’t been a rash of accidents to provoke the change, Beiriger said, it’s just a protection that seemed like a good idea.

But it’s also for on-the-clock work only, Beiriger said. If the volunteers stops and has a beer with buddies, the worker’s comp won’t cover any mishaps between the pub and home.

Paul Snyder is a staff writer for The Daily Reporter … and a deep sleeper.

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