RFFOW President’s Message | June 2019

I am delighted to report that Vice President Jim Fossos is progressing down the road to recovery at a fast pace. Jim is now at home sitting in his recliner. He has the assistance of a caregiver and a busy schedule with doctor’s appointments and rehabilitation. Jim has showed what can be accomplished as a firefighter with a loving family, many prayers, excellent medical care and a support group of friends, relatives and comrades who reached out to assure his recovery.

Jim’s daughter Robyn has done an excellent job as a loving daughter and very organized during this difficult time. Robyn reported that Jim would like visitors however it’s sometimes difficult to schedule. His phone is now back in service. Jim’s caregiver is putting together a calendar for the many therapy and doctor appointments. Robyn advises that after a short period of adjustment Jim will be able to go on outings and meet with friends.

As I previously reported we were successful in passing one of the two bills that we were working on during the last legislative session that ended in April 2019. This was a long 105 day exhausting session. Attempting to pass two bills, trying to assist the Washing- ton State Council of Firefighters when asked, and with the late attempt by Senator Van De Wege to merge the LEOFF I Fund with the LEOFF II Fund kept us very busy. We passed one of the two bills we were supporting, sounded the alarm on another merger at- tempt and played a major role in defeating the merger. Not bad for a part time organization with about 850 members!

I want to thank Director Roy Orlando for his support. Roy spent a lot of time with me in Olympia and is largely responsible for our success. It is hard for me to understand that in spite of what we have accomplished over the years and the service we provide, there are now only 850 LEOFF I RFFOW members paying the freight and doing the work for the entire group of 7000 LEOFF I members.

Our RFFOW members are declining from 2,200 in the year 2000 and in spite of my warnings no one seems to care. This month we will list 5 deaths which would equal about 10 statewide. In the past there were active LEOFF I members, some who would join the RFFOW when they retired filling the vacancy of those who passed away. We also had the widows of those who passed on as the widows were usually younger than the firefighter or law enforcement officer and continued their memberships. Unfortunately some of these widows are now passing away.

We have cut the fat and we are now cutting into the muscle of the Retired Firefighters of Washing- ton. How long can we continue providing the level of service we are providing today? I don’t know. I do know that if we could recruit another 2000 of the 7000 members into the RFFOW or an- other like organization, we could continue for several years. I also know that when we become weak and ineffective we will become shark bait. What bothers me is that no one seems to care. We have become too apathetic. What better legacy can we leave than to leave as strong an organization as we can to protect our widows and older LEOFF I members who can defend themselves. Maybe now or in the near future is the time to join the Washington State Council of Firefighters (WSCFF) proposed retiree group.

Senate Bill 5894 that we lobbied for and was passed addressed the funding for the Prior Act, fire- man’s pension fund under RCW 41.16 and RCW 41.18. As most of you know all firefighters hired before 1970 were members of these retirement systems. Under RCW 41.16.050 these retirement systems had their own pension fund.

Twenty-five percent of all monies received by the State from the tax on the sale of fire insurance policies is deposited into the fireman’s pension fund. Under RCW 41.16.060 the city is authorized to collect a tax levy to levy and place in the fund, a tax of twenty-two and one half cents per thousand dollars of assessed value against all the taxable proper- ty of such municipality. This revenue source would end upon the death of the last Prior Act beneficiary. With the passage of SB 5894 the cities can now use the monies in the fund to pay for LEOFF I medical expenses. We were in support of the amendment to authorize the cities to collect this revenue until the death of the last LEOFF I beneficiary.

The second bill HB 2051 was introduced at our request. Although this bill was not passed by the legislature, it was passed out of the House and by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The bill was sent to the Senate Rules committee for consideration before going to the Senate floor for a final vote to pass or defeat. I explained last month how the Senate Rules Committee works. Each Senator gets to pull one bill sent to the Rules Committee for a Committee vote to send the bill to the floor of the Senate for the final vote. Being that our bill was sent to Senate Rules toward the end of the session there was not enough time to have our bill pulled by a Senator. Each Senator had bills of a higher priority each time he/she had the chance to pull a bill.

We had HB 2051 introduced to correct the problem we are having in staffing some of the pension and disability boards. This bill would have been introduced by the SCPP Committee if there had been a quorum at the last committee meeting even though the Coalition testified against the bill. HB 2051 would amend all the retirement statutes to expand the eligibility for who can serve or be elected to a pension or dis- ability board. The amendment is
as follows:

(2) If no eligible regularly employed or retired firefighters are willing or able to be elected to the board under subsection (1) of this section, then any active or retired firefighters who reside within the jurisdiction served by the board may be elected under subsection (1) of this section.

This includes active and retired firefighters under this chapter and chapters 41.16, 41.26, and
52.26 RCW.

This is really a Band-Aid approach to fix the problem. This will help on the west side but will be of little help on the east where there are not many active or retired firefighters living in areas served by the board. This is like kicking the can down the road. It is an issue we will have to deal with in the very near future. We may be faced with a county board, a state board or some other geographic board if we don’t offer something our- selves. Unfortunately, we are the only group trying to resolve this issue. The Coalition didn’t even know the problem existed!

All is not lost. HB 2051 is not dead. The bill will start in House Rules next session and should be passed out of House Rules to the Senate Ways and Means Committee where it had passed twice before and it should be passed out of the Senate Rules Commit- tee early in the session and sent to the Senate for a final vote.

This is the time that candidates will be filing for office for the November election. We will be at- tending fundraisers, meeting with candidates and legislators running for re-election and making donations. Again, we are the only group that has a political action program. Some collect dues or ask for donations but do next to nothing to get those who are sympathetic to our issues elected. Our 850 RFFOW members should not and cannot do this much longer. Sixty dollars a year is cheap insurance to protect your pension and retirement benefits. We do need one State Retired Firefighter-Law Enforcement organization.

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