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Town employees as firefighters?

By Mary Anderson, The Courier-Tribune, Asheboro, N.C.
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

May 07--CANDOR -- The fact that the Candor Volunteer Fire Department operates as a component of the town raises insurance when a town employee who is also a volunteer fireman gets hurt at a fire.

The discussion by Candor commissioners at the regular meeting on Monday was prompted by a recommendation from the N.C. League of Municipalities that the town add a text amendment to the personnel policy to clarify town policy that the employee is off the clock as a town employee and is an employee of the fire department when responding to a fire call.

Town advisor Ron Niland wondered how a town employee could afford to lose salary money when he responds to a fire call.

Commissioner Rob Martin raised the question whether town employees were aware that they would not be paid by the town when working as a firefighter and how the insurance and workmans compensation liability functioned in those situations.

Niland said the questions brought up a larger issue that affects all small towns working to keep a fire department active and have enough volunteers available to respond to calls during the day. Some small towns have had to close their departments or merge with a larger department when firefighters were not available to respond during the day when they were working, he said.

"This raises issues I have never dealt with before because it has the potential to affect many towns," said Niland, who has more than 20 years experience in municipal management. "The text amendment to clarify the personnel policy is fine, but I would like to research the implications for towns like Candor where the fire department is a component of the town."

The recommendation from the League of Municipalities comes after Earl Harrington, Candor town employee and volunteer firefighter, was seriously injured when an oncoming vehicle struck him in heavy smoke on April 3. Harrington lost a leg in the accident. Harrington's coverage is not an issue. Town Clerk Tammy Kellis said Harrington is covered by fire department insurance, which has ruled that he was not working a town employee at the time of the accident. The personnel policy amendment would make the position of the town clear in the future.

Mayor Phillip Hearne said the town wanted "to do all we can for the town employees and firefighters. This seems to be a matter of wording to make everyone's position clear."

Hearne said he had recently visited Harrington and found him still in good spirits.

"He has been through several surgeries and is now in the healing and rehabilitation process," Hearne said. Harrington will stay at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill for a while longer as he goes through intense rehabilitation.

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Hearne said Harrington has a birthday in June and the commissioners are planning something special for him.

Fire Chief Zack Smith had the new diesel brush truck parked outside town hall for inspection by the commissioners and townspeople.

Smith thanked the board and town for supporting the fundraiser on April 26. Smith said the fundraisers supplement the town budget.

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(c)2014 The Courier-Tribune, Asheboro, N.C.

Visit The Courier-Tribune, Asheboro, N.C. at www.courier-tribune.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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