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EMS, Fire Death Benefits Proposed

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Raleigh County delegates are pushing for a state-paid death benefit for the families of firefighters and emergency medical service personnel killed in the line of duty, and one delegate hopes it can help firefighters killed in a propane explosion in Ghent Tuesday.

On Thursday, the delegation introduced a bill (HB2801) that would pay $50,000 to the survivors of firefighters and EMS personnel killed in the line of duty.

Delegate Melvin Kessler, D-Raleigh, hopes he can make the legislation retroactive to cover the victims of Tuesday’s propane explosion in Ghent.

Ghent volunteer firefighters Craig Lawrence Dorsey, 24, and Frederick Allen Burroughs, 51, were two of the four people killed in the explosion at a Little General store near the West Virginia Turnpike.

“If I have any say I’d like to see it be retroactive,” said Kessler. He called those that responded to the disaster “brave men” and said while $50,000 is not a lot of money, he understands how it could help.

“I’m sure [the families] can use it,” he said. “One left a 5- year-old child and they have funeral expenses.”

Similar legislation has been proposed previously, but has never had enough support. Kessler hopes this disaster will spur other lawmakers to join his delegation. “Maybe this will be the little boost that it needed [for passage],” he said.

He’s named the proposal the “Ghent bill.”

Kanawha County Commissioner Kent Carper also called for the legislation to be retroactive, pointing to the January death of Tennille Davis, Kanawha County’s lead paramedic. Davis was killed in a traffic accident while on her way to teach a class in the field.

Carper is asking for a retroactive date of Jan. 1. “It’s the only decent and fair thing to do for their families,” he said.

The Senate is considering a similar bill (SB90).

Also Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee decided it wants more study of a bill (SB76) criminalizing underage drinking. When introduced, it included a possible three days in jail for first- time violators.

Thursday, Judiciary Chairman Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, appointed a subcommittee headed by Sen. Dan Foster, D-Kanawha, to work on the legislation.

In making the assignment, Kessler said the idea is to not be “throwing kids that might be away in college in jail.” He noted such an arrest could seriously harm the future of a person under 21, but 18 or older.

“I think we all agree that a larger policy goal is to discourage underage drinking,” Kessler said.

His committee also recommended a bill (SB196) placing in law the practice of the Division of Juvenile Services of not accepting juveniles into detention facilities who need medical care.

There are 11 juvenile detention facilities scattered across the state, said Dale Humphreys, director of DJS. “It’s a procedure that’s being followed by most of the counties already,” he said.

It could also save the state money. Anyone turned away and sent to a hospital remains in the custody of the arresting agency. That means either private insurance or that entity could be responsible for medical care, but not the state.

“Payment is not the real issue,” Humphreys said. “It’s the health and safety of the juveniles.”

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