Volunteer Firefighter Workers’ Compensation Bill Withdrawn

The sponsor of legislation (HB 1248) that would have granted volunteer firefighters with no income source the equivalent pay of a professional firefighter for workers’ compensation purposes has withdrawn the legislation after MACo and other stakeholders testified in opposition to the bill.  From MACo’s testimony:

The Worker’s Compensation Act is a remedial statute meant to act as a wage replacement for injured workers. The statute was created to balance the interests of the injured workers, employers/insurers, and the taxpayers at large. In exchange for foregoing proof of fault, injured workers recover benefits based on lost wages.  Creating a new wage for the volunteer contravenes the balance created by the Act.  It transforms the Workers’ Compensation Act into a tort recovery without requiring that there be a proof of fault.

Both volunteer and professional firefighters play important but distinct public safety roles in Maryland.  However, this bill would blur the distinction between the benefits that accrue to a full-time professional employee and a part-time volunteer.

The bill would also increase workers’ compensation costs for local governments.  Statewide, over 75% of all firefighters are volunteers.  Volunteers, by the nature of their job, typically either work in another job part-time or do not work at all.  Under HB 1248, a volunteer would almost always be entitled to an average weekly wage calculation based on the professional firefighter salary.  Baltimore County estimates that its base salary for a professional firefighter is $1,400 per week.