Controversial legislation giving the Delaware Fire Prevention Commission the power to rule on fire department grievances has been delayed until next year.
Rep. Danny Short’s House Bill 193 aims to give the commission the authority to create rules and regulations, investigate firefighter injuries and hear and resolve complaints from or about firefighters and fire departments.
“It basically provides oversight in the firefighter world,” said Short (R-Seaford), who is a former volunteer firefighter. “It provides a process in which complaints can be handled in a legitimate way.”
The commission’s current responsibilities include overseeing the state fire school, fire marshal’s office and EMTs, according to Commissioner Ron Marvel.
Six of the organization’s commissioners are appointed by the governor, while the seventh is the most recent past president of the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters Association, Marvel said.
Right now, firefighter and fire department complaints are handled within the departments, according to Short. If someone believes a department’s ruling is unjust, their only recourse is to sue.
“It’s one of the few agencies that hasn’t been delegated to the governor’s cabinet,” Short said.
The House bill was met with some push back from fire departments, at least at first.
“It was a very contentious bill. Some companies thought it was great, some were absolutely against it,” said Norm Jones, Delaware Volunteer Firefighters Association president.
The Georgetown and Greenwood fire companies were among those to stated their opposition on electronic signs outside their stations.
“This legislation was carefully reviewed, discussed, and agreed upon that the GVFC would not support it,” Greenwood Volunteer Fire Company spokesman Mark Anderson said in a statement. “The GVFC already has in place a due process, which is handled by following a set of standards, policies and procedures contained in the company’s bylaws and standard operating guidelines, which is governed by our board of directors and voted on by our membership.”
Georgetown Fire Company President Michael Briggs said June 28 that his company still opposes the bill, though the statement has been removed from its sign. He declined to further discuss his department’s opposition.
Multiple firefighters were unwilling to speak on the record about why they oppose the bill but indicated they were against have their departments’ ability to resolve their own disputes taken away.
Their concerns may have been mollified by an amendment Short added June 14, giving fire departments 90 days to resolve grievances independently.
“With the amendment, I think a lot more fire companies could support it,” Jones said.
But with such little time left in the legislative session, the Delaware Volunteer Firefighters Association asked Short to table the bill until January 2022. A formal resolution honoring that request was issued June 24.
“The amendment satisfied the majority of the objections people had, but now, we have 60 individual fire companies, they all have their own legislation, meetings, votes. Then they have to go back through the county associations before we can have a vote,” said DVFA executive manager Warren Jones. “We asked that the bill be held until we have a chance to review the amendment and approve it.”
The association has until Dec. 15 to submit its recommendations to the General Assembly.