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Volunteering could be costly

June 05, 1998|By AMY WALLAUER

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The Berkeley County Ambulance Authority will have to pay emergency service employees who volunteer at fire departments or adopt a policy prohibiting paid employees from responding to emergency calls during nonworking hours.

Federal labor laws prohibit paid employees from volunteering in the same capacity for the same company. They must get paid for the service, according to Authority President Gary Collis.

In the past, that posed no problem for the county's emergency service employees because the five volunteer fire departments were separate entities and were licensed individually. A paramedic could work a shift, then volunteer for a few hours as a paramedic at one of the fire departments.

In September, as a result of restructuring, the departments were licensed under the Berkeley County Ambulance Authority.

Since last week, the county's paid personnel have been acting under an interim policy prohibiting employees from serving as volunteers unless they have a "duty to act."

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The authority's Martinsburg attorney, Amy Lamp, will research exactly how the duty to act concept has been interpreted in case law and apply it to the final policy, which will be reviewed at the authority's June 25 meeting.

"Who's going to be able to investigate every time when it is a duty to act or when it isn't a duty to act?" Collis said. "How do we budget for salary?"

On the flip side, if paid personnel don't volunteer, response time could suffer, Collis said. Volunteer fire departments have a 30 percent scratch record, meaning 30 percent of their calls have to be handled by other fire companies because there is no one to respond at the station called first.

"They're doing it to protect the individual, telling the Berkeley County Ambulance Authority we cannot make you volunteer. ... We can't say you have to go out to Hedgesville Volunteer Fire Company and volunteer your time," Collis said.

"But what I can't understand is, why can't an individual sign a waiver saying they want to volunteer their time without pay?" he said.

County paramedics and emergency medical technicians can volunteer as firefighters, but can't volunteer for the same job for which they are paid, Lamp said.

Collis said about five of the county's 20 paid employees are active volunteers.

"Those volunteer companies won't have that individual and may have to hire full-time people because they will lose volunteers," Collis said.

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