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Fire district may pay bills for 16-year-old's injury

The teenager, a member of the district's Explorers program, was hurt in a competition.

By JENNIFER FARRELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2000


SPRING HILL -- When a 16-year-old member of the Spring Hill Fire and Rescue District Explorers post was knocked unconscious in February during a regional competition in Largo, he was taken by ambulance to the nearest hospital.

Doctors declared the teen's injuries minor and released him, but not before performing a CAT scan and a neck X-ray.

Nearly two months later, the Spring Hill Fire and Rescue District Commission is being asked to foot the bill for the emergency-room visit and ambulance transport after it was discovered that the Explorers post's insurance had lapsed almost eight months at the time of the accident.

In a memo sent last week to the fire commissioners, Chief Michael Morgan said the teen does not have insurance coverage through his family and recommended that the district cover the medical costs, which so far total $1,719.

"The family doesn't have the coverage, and it would be a pretty big hardship for them to come up with the money," the chief said Monday. "We're the sponsor, and it was a fire department event."

Run through the Boy Scouts of America, the Explorers program is sponsored locally by the fire district. Officials said the group is financially independent from the district, holding its own fundraisers and paying its own bills.

Explorers leader Kenny Wannen, a firefighter and paramedic with the district, chalked up the problem to an oversight on his part.

Wannen, who took over the Explorers program in December 1998, said instructions on how to renew insurance through the post's carrier, Mutual of Omaha, were left out of a standard packet sent to him by the Boy Scouts organization during the group's annual rechartering process.

Wannen found out in February when he submitted the claim for the emergency room visit that the policy had expired in June.

"That was our first claim ever," he said. "I was under the assumption that our insurance was paid through the Boy Scout Council. It just happened in a mix-up between the Boy Scout Council and myself."

Morgan said he had suspended Explorers activities until the coverage was restored.

The policy has since been renewed and Morgan said that from now on, his administration will oversee the post's insurance coverage to prevent another such lapse.

But the issue, which is listed on the agenda for the board's meeting Wednesday, drew sharp criticism from Commissioners Bob Kanner and Dennis Andrews.

"That does not make me a happy camper," Andrews said. "Somebody, the chief or the assistant chief, is supposed to be the overseer of that. There should be a flag somewhere. Somebody's going to have to do some answering."

Kanner, meanwhile, worried what could have happened had the accident been more severe.

"God forbid that child was seriously injured," he said. "We would have a a heck of a lot of explaining to do."

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