Maine Volunteer Firefighter Fights for Workers Compensation
Volunteer firefighters are the backbone of many fire stations across New England. From Maine to New Hampshire the volunteer force provides services to thousands of residents. All volunteers go into the job knowing that fighting fires can be dangerous but put their lives on the line to help others. An on the job injury is not even a consideration as they struggle to help out those in need.
York Firefighters Association President David Osgood knows that volunteers work as hard as paid firemen and that without them the public would be at serious risk. What some do not consider, however, is the risk to their personal health and well-being.
"The issue is nobody thinks they're going to get hurt," Osgood said. We're all willing to lay down our lives to save a life. ... We don't go into it thinking we're going to do it."
However, firefighters can be and often are injured in the line of duty. If the injured worker is a volunteer, he may very well find himself without the money needed to support his family while he recovers. The lack of workers comp for volunteer firefighters has caused one Maine firefighter great personal and financial strife.
While responding to an arson related fire at The Stage Neck Inn last January Gardner Marshall of York, Maine was injured. Though he initially believed he had broken a rib his injures were soft tissue and nerve damage. These injuries resulted in spinal surgery and ongoing pain.
Though some treatments were covered by Maine Municipal Association, the insurance company that covers the town of York's workers' compensation, Marshall's workers compensation claim was immediately denied.
The town does carry supplemental insurance and this gave the Marshall's $7000. According to the family this carried them for a few months. After the money ran out, Marshall was still in pain but had no choice but to get back to work as an independent lobsterman. According to his wife, Astrid, Marshall, "works until it hurts." This is not long as he still suffers from the lasting effects of the injury.
The Maine Municipal Association determined that Marshall was entitled to lost weekly wages of $4.34. Obviously, this amount of money is not enough to live on.
Most believe that the only thing to do is push for legislation to fix the problem. Village Fire Chief Chris Balentine sees only one real answer- passing legislation that would protect volunteer fire fighters like Marshall.
"I think it's going to require legislation. They've made it so technically tough for people in average walks of life. "They can't grapple with it without hiring a high-priced lawyer."