CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice promised members of the Pratt Volunteer Fire Department and the family members of the two firefighters who died in the March 24 fire truck crash that he’ll ask the legislature during an upcoming special session to change the effective date of a new state law.
Justice had a ceremonial bill signing Wednesday for Senate Bill 625 which among other things doubles the death benefits for the families of first responders from $50,000 to $100,000 if that first responder dies in the line of duty.
The current effective date is in June, Justice said.
“We’ll retroactively go back and include these great families,” Justice said before signing the bill. “It may not be much but at least it’s something.”
Pratt VFD Assistant Chief Mike Edwards, 46, and Lt. Tom Craigo, 40, both of Hansford, were killed in the crash on Paint Creek Road. They were responding to a fatal crash on the West Virginia Turnpike when their truck got into a ditch and slammed against a rocky hillside. Three firefighters, Fire Chief Timmy Walker, 42, of Hansford, firefighter Billy Hypes, 56, of Gallagher, and firefighter Kyle Jenkins, 17, of Pratt, were injured. Walker remains hospitalized.
Justice struggled to put the tragedy into words.
“I hate this and I’m really sorry,” he said. “If I could make it go away I’d make it go away.”
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) April 11, 2018
Justice was surrounded by family members of the victims and other Pratt firefighters at the signing ceremony.
“We cannot see Michael and Thomas but they’re okay. Somewhere, somehow they’re okay and they’re watching right now and they will be with you forever and ever,” Justice said.
Justice invited the victims’ families to his home in Greenbrier County, promising his family would welcome them and help them with the grieving process.
Justice said lawmakers should make quick work of his request during a special session expected to take place in May.
“If we can’t pass this and retroactive this and retroactive this in special session then I’ll leave. That’s all there is to it because this is just a tragedy beyond comparison,” Justice said.
According to the West Virginia State Firemen’s Association the new law includes:
–Death benefit language changed, “dies” in the line of duty now, rather than “killed”. Doubled the death benefit to $100,000
–Authorizing VFD and EMS to use State Purchasing system.
–Increased the billable amount up to $1500 and sets up a way of attempting collection.
–Sets up accounts for both Fire and EMS (not funded, yet) for equipment/training.
–Sets up standards for EMS personnel.
–Sets up a method of reimbursement from Dept of Highways
–Courtesy certification for VFD members living in border states.
–Fire Marshal studies
–Workers’ Comp studies
“While we continue to mourn the loss of the fallen firefighters from Pratt, today we celebrate this legislation that will support our local volunteer fire departments and first responders,” Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper said. “Moreover, this bill will immediately help the families of the fallen Pratt Firemen.”
I am pleased the Governor agrees this issue should be placed on the call for a special session. It is important that we make sure the families of those brave Pratt firefighters who were lost in the tragic accident receive the full benefits of SB 625. https://t.co/UZDl6CvOIf
— Tim Armstead (@ArmsteadWV) April 11, 2018
House of Delegates Speaker Tim Armstead, R-Kanawha, first requested a measure changing the original language be placed on a special session agenda.