Volunteer firefighters without worker’s comp, amid contract negotiations

MARILLA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Volunteer firefighters in Marilla say they’re sounding the alarm and putting more than their lives at risk. They say they haven’t received worker’s compensation since the beginning of the year. The town supervisor says that’s because a contract hasn’t been signed yet. But the fire company says there’s a reason why.

As the volunteer firefighters in Marilla head to a call, they’re prepared for a different kind of risk.

“They’re out there at their own risk, with no worker’s compensation,” said Ronald Bourgeois, president of Marilla Fire Company.

Ronald Bourgeois says firefighters found out days ago in a letter from the town supervisor that they haven’t been covered by worker’s comp since the beginning of the year. The town supervisor says that’s because the fire company hasn’t signed a new contract.

Bourgeois says parts of the contract isn’t what they agreed on, like the town having the option to check their financial records.

“He wants our books so he can produce his own audit, so he can do a personal audit on us which is illegal,” said Bourgeois.

Bourgeois say the fire company gets audited every year by a private outside agency, not affiliated with the fire company and sends it to the town for review.

“The audit that I’ve received what they’ve done is nothing more than a surface audit,” said Earl Gingerich, town of Marilla supervisor.

Earl Gingerich says that audit isn’t good enough. Now he’s calling on the New York State Comptroller’s Office to step in.

“I’m not questioning that there’s anything inappropriate or illegal but the behavior is kind of sending a different signal to the residents,” said Gingerich.

Bourgeois says the fire company has nothing to hide and says the town board, not the supervisor, looked at their books just last week.

Meanwhile, he says firefighters will continue to respond to calls.

“This is a very childish thing. Sometimes people need to put their personal differences behind because again this is for the public, we serve and protect the public of this town,” said Bourgeois.

He says he’d like to be able to come to a compromise with the town not just for firefighters, but for the community.

“The last thing we want is a scandal in this town or in this fire company, it jeopardizes the people, it jeopardizes the reputation of everyone that’s in town,” said Bourgeois.

Gingerich says the contract changes they request must be in writing. While the town has a mutual aid agreement with surrounding towns, if those fire companies help on a call Bourgeois says they’re not covered by worker’s comp either.

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