The Pennsylvania General Assembly is currently proposing the expansion of workers’ compensation benefits to emergency responders in Senate Bill 94. The Bill would give Pennsylvania volunteer emergency medical service (EMS) responders workers’ compensation insurance for injuries suffered while performing all work-related activities. As of April 2020, volunteer firefighters and emergency medical service (EMS) responders receive workers’ compensation coverage only if they are injured on emergency calls.
The legislation would apply to 1,550 volunteer fire companies and 92 ambulance organizations that are insured by Pennsylvania’s State Workers Insurance Fund (SWIF). The bill would only apply to active volunteers and not include social members.
SB 94 was co-sponsored by State Sen. Lisa Baker, a Republican who represents Pennsylvania’s 20th District. State Senator Baker believes that most volunteer emergency responders, whether they’re responding to an emergency call or working at the annual bazaar, perform many important duties as part of their functions.
According to Baker, the idea to sponsor such a bill resulted from a volunteer who suffered injuries at a fire company’s fundraising event. The volunteer reacted with concern and doubt about being eligible for workers’ compensation benefits because the injury did not occur while responding to a call. “I believe that we should be extending that important coverage because they’re protecting our lives,” Baker said.
Frank Zangari, Girardville fire chief and president of the Schuylkill County Fire Chiefs stated that EMS volunteers put in an “enormous” amount of time performing other duties beyond responding to emergency calls. Since the bill would increase the number of employees eligible for workers’ compensation coverage, the cost to municipalities providing workers’ compensation would increase. However, officials such as Brian Oppelt Jr., fire chief at Elm Hill Hose Company 3 in Plymouth, Pennsylvania, believe that’s a small price to pay.
The legislation is part of broader efforts by lawmakers to focus on the challenges facing fire and EMS companies throughout Pennsylvania. In the last few decades, the number of volunteer EMS providers and firefighters in Pennsylvania has sharply decreased. The legislature formed a committee to study the decline in volunteers and found that while the state had 300,000 emergency response volunteers in the 1970s, this number significantly dropped over time to 38,000 in 2018.
Employers are required by law to have workers’ compensation insurance to protect the financial well-being of a worker injured on the job. As a result of workers’ compensation coverage in the workplace, workers surrender the right to sue their employers. Workers receive benefits that provide lost wages and pay medical expenses. In return, employers are immune from workers suing them with few exceptions.
SB 94 was passed by the Senate in January and subsequently referred to the Pennsylvania House Committee on Labor & Industry in February.
At Powell Law, it is our goal to painstakingly protect and effectively assert the rights of injured workers in Pennsylvania. Powell Law has an established 115-year-old reputation throughout northeastern Pennsylvania. Contact Powell Law at (570) 961-0777. The consultation is FREE, and you don’t pay unless we win!