Harrisburg, September 26, 2016 – The state Senate Committee on Labor and Industry today unanimously approved Sen. John Yudichak’s (D-Luzerne/Carbon) legislation that would provide state coverage of workers’ compensation benefits to municipal first responders who suffer injuries while providing help during emergencies on state game lands.
“I’m pleased by today’s unanimous, bipartisan vote,” Yudichak said. “No municipality should be footing the bill when one of their emergency responders are injured while volunteering their efforts on any state property.”
Under the Yudichak bill (Senate Bill 1363), the state workers’ compensation insurance would cover volunteer firefighters, volunteer ambulance corps personnel and volunteer rescue squad members who suffer injuries while providing assistance on state game lands.
The lawmaker said the legislation was prompted by several emergency incidents at the Glen Onoko Trail state game lands located in Jim Thorpe, Carbon County. It’s estimated that there have been between 10-20 incidents where first responders have been injured while making rescues.
Even though the volunteers were responding to emergencies on state game lands, their local municipal insurance plans were saddled with covering their injuries.
“This is about fairness,” Yudichak said. “The system shouldn’t penalize municipalities when their first responders help out – and the system certainly shouldn’t discourage or deter any first responder from taking action during emergencies on state game lands.”
Mark Nalesnik, director for the Carbon County Emergency Management Agency, added, “Our volunteers are on state game lands all the time for search and rescue missions. It makes sense that state coverage be provided when these first responders suffer injuries while serving the public.”
Nalesnik pointed out that it is contradictory that injuries on some state property are covered, but denied on others. For example, he said first responders are covered when they respond to emergencies on property managed by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), but not on state game lands.
Over the past five years, Yudichak said DCNR – which manages 2.2 million acres of state forest land — has paid a total of 17 new injury claims from volunteer first responders that would have otherwise been cover by municipal workers’ compensation policies. He said there are 1.5 million acres of state game lands in Pennsylvania managed by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.
The legislation now goes to the full Senate for consideration.
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