The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

October 9, 2012

Fire panel could grow to 17 members

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Expanding the West Virginia Fire Commission to 17 members so that four new ones would include an electrician, two inspectors — one electrical, the other a general home one — and a sprinkler fitter cleared a minor legislative hurdle Monday.

In November interims, members of Government Organization Subcommittee A plan to vote on the draft prepared by counsel Brenda Thompson.

The attorney said various citizens asked to have direct input on the commission’s work, and the subcommittee agreed to enlarge the group, all appointed by the governor.

State Fire Commissioner Sterling Lewis is taking a position of neutrality.

“From my standpoint, I don’t think it would be ethical for me to make recommendations who should be my bosses,” he said after the subcommittee meeting.

“I just hope that we get the people that we represent and the ones that we regulate a seat on the board. I think that’s a must. We haven’t had that in the past. I think it will be a good thing.”

One panelist, Delegate Rick Snuffer, R-Raleigh, who is both a home builder and a licensed master electrician, endorsed the proposal.

“Because they have so much effect, it is important to have the input from the industry to the regulations that are set out,” Snuffer said.

“That’s one of the big problems now. You’ve got regulations and there’s no input from the people most affected by them.”

The original 13 already in statute are three paid firefighters, one full-time paid chief, three volunteer firefighters and two chiefs, two people representing business and industry, someone representing the fire insurance industry and a licensed architect.

“It looks like it would be a case of people who actually know what they’re doing, having an input in what the governor decides the people have to abide by,” Snuffer said of the proposed larger commission. “It would be refreshing to see that for a change.”

But Sam Love, a lobbyist for volunteer firefighters, said he was concerned over changing the word from “shall” to “may” in the recommendations to the governor when appointments are made.

“We want somebody that’s in touch with volunteer fire service and someone participating in it now,” Love said. “By going to may, he could appoint anybody and we might lose some expertise or not even have somebody that’s an active volunteer fireman there.”

Snuffer said he found it “refreshing” to see the legislation move quickly in the interims process.

The draft was prepared after a hearing at September interims.

“This is probably the most successful interims process I’ve seen,” the Beckley resident said. “In the two years I’ve been here, it’s the first time I’ve seen the process work like you would hope it worked. That’s kind of exciting when you see government work like it’s supposed to.”

— E-mail: