ASCENSION PARISH, LA (WAFB) - [if gte mso 9]>
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Volunteer firefighters provide protection in what can be a matter of life and death, but they can be subject to legal nightmares in many cases. Now, help for them will soon be on the way.
Fire District 1 in Ascension Parish is one of many districts in Louisiana consisting primarily of volunteer firefighters.
"Six departments in my district with about 200 volunteers," said fire coordinator Gene Witek.
Witek is the fire coordinator in District 1 and said about four out of the five calls his men and women roll out on are emergency service calls. Under existing state law, volunteer firefighters are still liable when responding to any other call. That, however, is about to change.
"They can relax do their job, take care of the patients, get them ready for the ambulance and not worry about the other stuff behind them," added Witek.
A new law recently signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal will remove liability for volunteer firefighters in the state on all calls and not just when responding to fires.
"Times have changed and the fire department is the catch all for any emergencies," said Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning.
Browning said he is hopeful the law passed by state legislators earlier this month encourages more residents to help out fire departments in need.
"The day we don't have people participate in fire departments and the day fire departments don't do these activities to the best of their abilities, at the end of the day, homeowners pay more in insurance costs," added Browning.
According to official figures, about 85 percent of the state's fire departments are volunteer units like most in District 1 in Ascension Parish. Small communities have limited financial resources and supporters say this law will basically create an additional level of protection.
"I think this law was a common sense law. It said, 'Hey, we're not putting any extra burdens on you. You need to be responsible and professional, but we're not going to put extra burdens on you.' And 40 years ago, this was the intent of the law. We just had to revisit it and do some clean up to it," said Browning.
"Knowing they've got an extra level of protection going out to help their neighbors and don't have to worry about ambulance chasers looking for a dollar at their expense while they're trying to do good," said Witek.
The law goes into effect August 1.