Greenstein Bill To Ensure First Responders Receive Compensation And Medical Benefits For Illnesses Caused By Catastrophic Events Headed To Governor

Senator Linda Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer, addresses the State Senate after being sworn in to office.

Thomas P. Canzanella Twenty First Century First Responders Protection Act’ Provides Coverage for Emergency Workers Whose Symptoms and Illnesses May Appear Years After Incidents

TRENTON – A bill sponsored by Senator Linda R. Greenstein that would ensure New Jersey’s first responders receive medical care and compensation for conditions resulting from their actions in the line of duty, particularly medical conditions that may not manifest until long after the event, received final legislative approval today and now heads to the Governor’s desk.

“First responders are our front line defense in times of chaos and tragedy. In most cases, they are running into danger when most people are running out. When these heroic actions lead to illnesses, we should be supporting these men and women,” said Senator Greenstein, D-Middlesex and Mercer. “We must ensure compensation and health benefits are provided to our firefighters, police officers, EMTs and nurses who protect and serve the people of New Jersey during catastrophic events and terrorist attacks.”

The bill, S-1778, would create a rebuttable presumption for workers’ compensation coverage – shifting the burden of proof from the employee to the employer – for any death or disability, including post traumatic stress disorder, that arises from the physical or psychological impact of stress or injury experienced by the public safety worker during response to a terrorist attack, epidemic or other catastrophic emergency. If a first responder is exposed to pathogens or biological toxins, hazardous chemicals, cancer causing radiation or radioactive substances or witnesses death and suffering of a magnitude sufficient to cause significant psychological trauma during a catastrophic event, they would be able to receive workers’ compensation including wage replacement and medical benefits. The bill would apply to both paid and volunteer firefighters, first aid or rescue squad members, police, corrections officers, nurses, medical technicians and other medical personnel.

The September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York caused thousands of tons of toxic debris to enter the air in the aftermath of the attacks, leaving emergency responders and individuals in the area susceptible to increased health risks. Research into these toxins’ effects on rescue workers has been well documented. A Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital doctor cited a 70 percent illness rate among first responders; a 2010 report of 14,000 rescue workers found that on average workers lost 10 percent of their lung function. Further, a 2012 study by the Journal of American Medical Association reported that the incidences of prostate cancer, thyroid cancers and multiple myeloma was elevated among 9-11 rescue workers; and a recent Journal of Environmental Health Perspectives study found a 15 percent overall increased risk of cancer in World Trade Center rescue and recovery workers.

“First responders – such as those who rushed to Ground Zero on September 11 – are truly in a class of their own, putting their lives on the line to protect ours. Often these heroic actions cause severe illnesses such as respiratory problems, cancer or post traumatic stress disorder,” said Senator Greenstein. “These men and women shouldn’t have to battle it out in court to receive the health care and compensation that they have earned for the service. Instead we should be providing them with the care they need to survive.”

Due to the extreme likelihood of repeated smoke and carcinogenic exposure, the bill would provide that any firefighter with five or more years of service would receive a rebuttal presumption for workers’ compensation if they suffer an injury, illness or death caused by cancer.

The legislation is named after the late Thomas P. Canzanella, a Hackensack firefighter who spent several weeks at Ground Zero after 9-11 and championed coverage of firefighter occupational diseases, including cancer.

The bill was approved by the Senate last week with a vote of 21-13. Today the General Assembly approved the measure 53-19-4.

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