As the demand for emergency services across the country increases, so do the needs of our firefighters. One way to secure funding, protection, and attention to urgent matters is through the tried-and-true process of passing legislation. From cancer protection to tax incentives, here’s a roundup of firefighter and EMS bills and legislation that passed, failed, and are still on the table in early 2020.
Firefighter Cancer Decontamination Equipment Grant Program in Florida
The Florida Legislature passed a bill in March to protect firefighters from cancer-causing materials, with a spotlight on asbestos. The Firefighter Cancer Decontamination Equipment Grant Program in Florida will provide funding for departments to procure supplies, equipment and provide training that will greatly reduce exposure to toxic materials. While rarely used in modern structures, asbestos is extremely prevalent in older buildings, where firefighters regularly respond to emergencies. The latest legislation will ensure that all fire departments across the state, from large municipal entities to small, volunteer fire stations, will have decontamination equipment and technology that better prevents exposure.
Cancer Support in South Carolina
In other areas of the country, lawmakers are attacking cancer from a different angle. South Carolina, one of the last states to pass legislation that financially protects firefighters against cancer, finally joined the ranks of the 47 other states that offer this protection. SC State Representative Nancy Mace sponsored the cancer presumption bill, designed to provide cancer-stricken firefighters with a supplemental insurance policy. Many insurance agencies drag ill firefighters through rigorous court battles before paying out on a policy, if they do at all. This bill, co-sponsored by the Professional Fire Fighters of South Carolina, ensures that firefighters are covered by insurance companies, provided they have been employed by a SC fire department for at least five continuous years and are within 10 years of their last date of service. New York and Nebraska passed similar legislation in early 2020. Despite almost every state now offering financial protection to firefighters should they be diagnosed with cancer, some states like Florida say that these laws are not perfect, and more work needs to be done to ensure firefighter safety.
Lack of Funding for Firefighters in Indiana
Lack of funding continues to be an issue for fire departments across the country, like in Vernon Township, Indiana. Rep. Robert Cherry’s House Bill 1202, legislation that would have allowed the township to increase its property tax levy for fire and emergency medical services, failed on March 11. The increase in taxes would have allowed the township to hire full-time, paid firefighters, as it currently relies solely on volunteer and part-time workers. While Vernon Township Trustee Florence May said that “very few people” would have actually experienced an increase in taxes, the bill did not make it past the Senate vote.
Now, faced with a serious lack of funding, Rep. Cherry suggested that Vernon Township might need to consider forming a fire district or territory with another municipality in order to keep its community safe, which would force firefighters territories to be spread thinly over a large population. Without an effective fire department, thousands of lives within the community remain at risk.
Volunteer Firefighters Needed in West Virginia
Faced with a lack of funding and reliance on volunteer firefighters, other states are forced to get creative. House Bill 4558, approved in late March, now allows volunteer firefighters in the state of West Virginia to file a personal income tax credit for each year or work. The bill was introduced by Republicans to address the growing need for emergency first responders, after communities across the state recognized major gaps in firehouse staffing. Delegates are hoping to inspire more volunteer firefighter participation by offering a yearly credit of $5,000, depending on filing status. This is a low-cost alternative to hiring new full-time staff members, something many firehouses across the state are financially unable to do.
While we see headway being made for firefighters’ health and safety, securing funding continues to be an issue for fire departments across the country. What many voters don’t understand is that lack of funding now leads to more serious, and more expensive, issues down the road. Cancer diagnosis’, increased emergency response time, and even civilian fatalities are all impacted by a firefighters inability to effectively do their jobs due to lack of funding.
If you know of a firefighter or EMS bill that’s being bottlenecked or requires more support, we want to hear from you. Reach out to executive director Nile at firstname.lastname@example.org.