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W.Va. civil immunity law for first responders might be nation's first

Gov. Tomblin visits Panhandle to sign legislation protecting ambulance crews from lawsuits when they have to forcibly enter a home

July 27, 2011|By RICHARD F. BELISLE | richardb@herald-mail.com
  • W.Va. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, right, holds a photograph of the late Jackie Alden while he speaks with Jackie's younger sister, Liza Oliver, left, of Nashville, Tenn., and her mother Anna Alden, center, of Harpers Ferry, W.Va., Wednesday afternoon after Tomblin signed bill HB 3105 into law at the Independent Fire Co. in Ranson, W.Va.
By Richard F. Belisle, Staff Writer

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. — A Harpers Ferry, W.Va., woman is leading an effort to get all 50 states to pass a bill that protects ambulance crews from lawsuits when they have to forcibly enter a home on 911 calls.

Acting West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin on Wednesday signed what is believed to be the first such civil immunity bill in the nation.

Anna Alden said her daughter, Jaclyn Alden, 29, of West Hollywood, Calif., died in her home because her door was locked and rescue crews could not get in.

She made her first 911 calls at 8 a.m. and was found dead at 5 p.m. by her boyfriend, Alden said.

"Jaclyn was having a medical emergency and couldn't speak. She kept dialing 911 and hanging up, dialing and hanging up, at least six times, before the dispatcher sent help," Alden said.

"The rescue crew knocked on the door and looked through the windows, but they didn't see anything so they left," Alden said

Alden said she wants every state to pass a bill similar to West Virginia's. She and her daughter, Liza Oliver of Nashville, Tenn., Jaclyn's younger sister, have launched a nationwide campaign to convince state legislatures to pass one.

They said they plan to send copies of the West Virginia bill to legislatures in every state.

"I'm going to try first in Tennessee," Oliver said.

The law will protect citizens as well as rescue personnel, she said.

Alden contacted Del. Tiffany Lawrence, D-Jefferson, for help in getting her bill introduced in the West Virginia Legislature.

Lawrence, who represents the 58th District in the state House of Delegates, said Wednesday's signing by the governor was an emotional moment for Alden and her daughter.

"We've documented similar cases (to Jaclyn Alden's) in the state," she said. "This bill will correct a deficiency in the law."

"When citizens call 911, they're scared. They're in fear for their lives," Tomblin said.

Rescue crews often have to take drastic action to get to a victim inside, he said.

"Sometimes they have to break the door down."

Ranson Police Chief Bill Roper and Donald Longerbeam, chief of the Independent Fire Co., where the signing ceremony took place, said firefighters often have to call police for help getting into a home when responding to a 911 call.

Longerbeam said rescue crews will call police if they can't get in or if they suspect that a person inside might be deceased.

"We look for signs," he said. "Sometimes it could be an odor or a lot of newspapers stacked up outside."

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