Lawmakers consider expanding firefighter disability benefits

Indiana has already passed similar legislation

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

BOSTON (WWLP) – Public safety officers often work in some of the most dangerous conditions from fires to medical emergencies. Now, lawmakers are considering legislation to expand disability benefits and retirement for firefighters that acquired diseases while on the job.

When a firefighter or police officer is called to an emergency, they never know what they’ll be exposed to, including dangerous toxins released into the air.

“We knowingly take the risk of our life when trying to save someone else’s,” Westfield firefighter Greg Heath told 22News.

While firefighters are required to wear masks, chemicals can still enter their bodies through accidental ingestion or even skin contact. 22News spoke with one Westfield firefighter who now has to live with the effects for the rest of his life.

“Having been on the fire department for 20 years, I’ve obviously been to quite a few fires, exposed to quite a few toxins, and I was diagnosed at age 42, approximately four years ago with Parkinson’s disease,” said Heath.

Studies have shown that chemicals firefighters are exposed to can attack the nervous system, leading to disorders like Parkinson’s disease.

State Representative John Velis, (D) Westfield, filed a bill that would expand disability benefits and retirement for emergency responders who develop Parkinson’s disease in the line of duty.

“We have a duty and an obligation. These are firefighters that put their lives on the line every single day for us and more and more firefighters are being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and, quite frankly, it’s killing them,” Velis told 22News. “They’re being forced to retire early.”

Under the proposal, public safety officers must show no signs of the condition in their entry physical exams.

Indiana has already passed similar legislation to expand disability benefits for firefighters.