Firefighters could get insurance

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Disability insurance for volunteer firefighters could join energy issues and monument funding on the list of topics when state lawmakers convene a special session Wednesday.

A push to initiate coverage for Mississippi volunteers by State Insurance Commissioner and Fire Marshal Mike Chaney will continue due to the state’s high number of fire-related deaths and injuries to fire personnel, according to a release from Chaney’s office.

“These are men and women who give up their time and place their lives and health in jeopardy every time they respond to a fire,” Chaney said. “We should see to it that they are not also asked to face financial hardship or place a financial burden on their families if they are injured protecting the lives and property of their neighbors.”

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Of the state’s 16,344 firefighters, 13,326 are volunteers. Vicksburg is one of 41 cities with a municipal fire department where employees have insurance coverage. Most cities, 129, and some counties, including Warren, have only volunteer responders.

Volunteer firefighters qualify for some workers’ compensation, a $60,000 state death benefit and may qualify for a federal death benefit, but loss of wages from injuries sustained while fighting fires is not covered. In Warren County, the lone benefit for personnel of the six volunteer departments outside Vicksburg city limits is a privately administered plan that covers a portion of salaries.

Chaney did not specify a funding mechanism for the benefit. Currently, the State Fire Insurance Rebate Program only pays for trucks and facility improvements at city and county fire departments using a 3 percent tax on all fire insurance premiums.

Local legislators can also expect a request by Warren County supervisors to file local and private legislation to fund the remaining $2,500 of the estimated cost of a monument to honor local war veterans who have received a Purple Heart.

The board passed a resolution Monday in favor of helping defray costs. By statute, counties may allocate money to nonprofit groups and charitable efforts only with permission of the Legislature.

Created in January, the Military Order of the Purple Heart Hill City chapter plans a 4-foot, granite monument at the Rose Garden on Monroe Street featuring a likeness of the honor bestowed since 1917 on those wounded or killed in combat.

The total cost of the monument is $6,400, chapter members have said. The City of Vicksburg has offered the site and half the cost. Also, funds have been pledged by local American Legion posts, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Vicksburg Warren Chamber of Commerce and Ameristar Casino.

Vicksburg’s foray into alternative energy via one of a pair of firms seeking federal approval to place electricity-generating turbines in the Mississippi River may see legislative action as well.

Mayor Laurence Leyens has said the city is exploring ways to purchase one of the propeller-like structures to ease power bills on city-owned infrastructure. Entergy Mississippi holds an exclusive right to sell electricity in Vicksburg and any change involving the city would require state approval to set up a utility company.

The city is eyeing a share of $1.6 million available to the state from the federal stimulus package. Much of the money is aimed at renewable energy projects. Leyens has said he models the city’s plan to own a turbine after a similar arrangement in Hastings, Minn., where that city owns the country’s first commercial hydrokinetic power station.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at