Assemblywoman Woerner’s Bill to Expand Protections for Volunteer Firefighters Passes the Assembly

Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner (D-Round Lake) announced that a bill she sponsored to ensure more volunteer firefights qualify for disability and death benefits passed the Assembly and the Senate. Her legislation will soon be sent to the governor.

“Volunteer firefighters put their lives on the line to protect us without any compensation for their service,” said Woerner. “These brave men and women are heroes, and they shouldn’t have to worry about covering the costs of medical expenses because their insurance denied them. This not only causes distress for their families, but also unnecessarily increases litigation costs and delays the payment of qualifying benefits to volunteer firefighters injured while protecting their communities. I’ll always work to expand support and services for volunteer emergency personnel, and I urge the governor to sign this bill into law.”

Woerner’s bill ensures that volunteer firefighters who suffer a vascular rupture related to official duties and activities that causes death or disability are covered under the Volunteer Firefighter's Benefits Law (VFBL) (A.6767-A). While these types of injuries are generally covered under the VBFL, certain insurers fight these claims and assert that injuries are unrelated to their service. The new bill, called the Chief James Brooks Jr. Act, will provide presumptive coverage for vascular ruptures similar to the coverage for heart attacks.

The bill was inspired by Chief James Brooks Jr., who was a member of the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company for 20 years and served as an assistant chief. James Brooks Jr. died in September after tearing an artery while responding to a structure fire in Dresden four months earlier.[1] He was taken to Rutland Regional Medical Center and later flown to University of Vermont Medical Center, where he suffered a series of debilitating strokes during a surgery to repair the damaged valve. Brooks, who was 45 when he died, had his workers’ compensation claim denied despite state law requiring Washington County to cover expenses. While Chief Brooks had family members to care for him, others aren’t as lucky and they shouldn’t be concerned with the costs of care, Woerner noted.