Expanded protections for volunteer firefighters under Warnick bill

Under a new law, volunteer firefighters will see additional workplace protections.

State Sen. Judy Warnick sponsored Senate Bill 5384, which was signed by the governor late last week and makes a small but significant change to how these public servants are defined in the Industrial Welfare Act.

Warnick said lessons learned in last year’s wildfire season necessitated the update.

“We had a situation where trained volunteers were worried about their actual jobs and whether they could leave to help their community,” said Warnick, R-Moses Lake. “Restrictions by employers during these emergencies needed to be addressed and allow for greater flexibility for volunteer firefighters who serve a valuable role in our communities.”

The bill contains an emergency clause, which means it goes into effect immediately. Instead of rigid qualifications determining status of a volunteer firefighter, Warnick’s changes streamlines the definition to protect volunteers from retaliation or fear of losing their regular employment.

“The statute didn’t fit the needs of our communities,” Warnick said. “I think we struck a good balance between employers and employees who are volunteering in this critical capacity. This clarification will go a long way in better serving communities around the state that rely on these extraordinary individuals.”

Gov. Jay Inslee signed Warnick’s bill into law April 16.