Congress is about to pass a bill providing death benefits for loved ones of firefighters. The legislative process on the issue began 10 years ago with Gales Ferry Volunteer Fire Company chief Anthony Saccone.
The Department of Justice’s Public Safety Officer Benefits Program pays $ 370,000 and $ 1,200 per month to the spouses or children of first responders who are killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Saccone reached out to U.S. Representative Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, after learning what he and Courtney say was an oversight in the program: The fire department was not included.
Firefighters are designated members of a fire department who primarily control traffic around a fire scene and help set up equipment. Because there is no uniform national designation for the fire police, many of these officials find it difficult to access the benefits that other public safety officers receive.
“We have our own fire department in the city,” Saccone said on Friday. “I remember an incident where one of our fire captains, about 10 years ago, he was about 79 at the time, we had a car accident on route 12. He was 2 in the morning … It was on a bad curve and someone was driving down Highway 12 at high speed. Even though we had barricades, we had flashing lights, this gentleman who was 79 had to jump over the guardrail to avoid being hit and knocked down.
Saccone considered a hypothetical. If he did a traffic check with a firefighter and they were both hit and killed, his family would receive federal death benefits while his counterpart’s family would get nothing.
Saccone said he didn’t think the legislation would change his mind about people joining the fire police, but it would at least give the police a sense of security.
The House this week overwhelmingly passed the U.S. First Responder Protection Act, which was incorporated into the Courtney Firefighting Fairness Act. The Senate is expected to pass the bill as early as next week after agreeing to a minor change made by the House.
Courtney said the Justice Department felt that since fire policing exists in only a handful of states and Congress has not defined a uniform national definition for them, fire policing would not be not included in the benefits program.
“That was their opinion, and I’m not sure that makes a whole lot of sense, but the bottom line is that it only leaves a legislative avenue to get coverage,” Courtney said Thursday. “Anthony was passionate about this and took me to the fire station and educated me, then we went ahead and drafted the bill.”
In a press release, Courtney’s office quoted him as saying, ‘At a time when we need to do all we can to support our public safety and law enforcement officers, to ensure that the firefighters Americans and their families to be entitled to these essential benefits is the right thing to do. “
“The fire brigade responds to emergencies alongside the police and fire services – they put themselves at risk to protect our communities, and they deserve the same assurance other public safety officers have that our country will honor. their service if, God forbid, they are killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty, ”Courtney also said in the statement.
Courtney pointed out that it took 10 years of effort for this to happen, and Saccone laughed at how slow things were in Washington.
“I thought (the legislation) was dead. I know Congressman Courtney had worked on it, but the idea of her demise faded, ”Saccone said. “Until a few weeks ago I got an email saying he was going to be adopted. I was amazed and so grateful. Things in DC seem to be taking a long time.
Saccone said he’s already noticing an impact outside of Connecticut.
“I got a phone call from somewhere in Pennsylvania last week that their father had passed away, he had a massive heart attack in a car accident as a firefighter, and they are fighting the Department of Justice for something like five years, ”he said. “He called me to thank everyone involved, and they think as soon as that passes they will redo the papers so that their father is recognized as a deceased in the line of duty.”
The fact that this legislation was born because of a volunteer fire company chief in Gales Ferry, Connecticut, is not lost on Courtney.
“The prognosis is good that he’s going to pass, and good for Anthony – it’s not like he has lobbyists here or a super PAC,” he said. “It’s nice to see that.”