5-STAR RATED FIREFIGHTERS ATTORNEYS: PROPOSED BIPARTISAN LEGISLATION SEEKS TO HELP MINNESOTA’S FIREFIGHTERS
Firefighters are expected to handle mentally taxing and traumatic events on a regular basis. From burning buildings to medical emergencies, car accidents, mental health emergencies or any of a multitude of public safety crises, any call on any day may call for a daring rescue that firefighters must be ready to respond to at any moment. In some cases, that next call involves responding to severe injuries or unexpected death, often with little time to process or decompress from other traumatic events they may have witnessed.
An average person that experiences just one of these emergencies could have enough trauma to provoke post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms. For firefighters and first responders, however, trauma is in the job description. This mental suffering is on top of the biological, chemical, and physical hazards of the job that are well known and visible, including a societal expectation that firefighters and police officers take these events in stride.
Thankfully, this outdated expectation appears to be changing as more lawmakers begin to understand the compounding damage that firefighters and first responders endure throughout their careers. On February 2nd, a piece of bipartisan legislation was introduced to the Minnesota Legislature that seeks to establish a funding program to help all firefighters, including part-time positions and volunteers, by addressing mental health complications as well as a cancer or heart disease.
The new bill, called HF 377 by the legislature, seeks to address four main points:
- Provide a critical care policy that allows direct payment of up to $30,000 to firefighters diagnosed with cancer or heart disease, which would run in part through the Minnesota Firefighters Initiative (MnFIRE);
- Develop a firefighter-specific counseling program through the Minnesota Fire Assistance Program that offers five sessions per year;
- Offer ongoing and extended counseling services to any firefighter who has additional psychological needs; and
- Provide funding for a two-hour training session on how cancer, heart disease, and PTSD disproportionately cause illness and death in firefighters. The training — presented by firefighters, for firefighters — would give steps and best practices to limit occupational risks like cancer and PTSD while promoting overall wellbeing.
Minnesota currently ranks 48th among states in funding per capita for money spent on firefighting. The current budget realities have created critical shortages that has forced departments to make difficult decisions on whether to prioritize firefighting equipment or health and safety measures. Meanwhile, one in five Minnesota fire departments have reported that at least one of their firefighter were diagnosed with cancer, and recent studies have shown that about 45% of on-duty firefighter deaths are caused by cardiovascular injuries. This bill would provide an additional $7.3 million to help support the thousands of firefighters across the state by better educating and preparing them for the hazardous realities of their jobs.
Based on the proposed legislation, the firefighter must have a current diagnosis of cancer or heart disease, or have been diagnosed with cancer or heart disease within the past year in order to qualify for the monetary payment. The payment would also be contingent on a certification from the firefighter’s health care provider that the individual is covered under the law. Per the statutory language, the Minnesota Firefighters Initiative will be responsible for both establishing the criteria and scaling the monetary support according to the severity of the individual’s diagnosis.
While this bill is only proposed legislation, it signals another step forward in the state legislature recognizing the stress and mental anguish firefighters and other first responders amass during their public service careers. Similarly in 2018, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill to amend the workers’ compensation statute to provide an evidentiary presumption for PTSD in certain first responders. However, this presumption is rebuttable, which is why it is important to reach out and speak with legal professionals who specialize in this area of law and understands the realities faced by first responders.
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