Whelan To Introduce Legislation To Protect First Responders

Bill Would Provide Immunity to Rescue Workers Who Forcibly Enter Homes to Save the Lives of Those in Need of Emergency Assistance

TRENTON – Senator Jim Whelan today announced plans to introduce legislation which would ensure that no individual in need of emergency assistance is denied as a result of their inability to answer the door. The bill would provide civil liability protections to emergency personnel and first responders –including both paid and volunteer police, fire and EMT workers — who must forcibly enter a location during a rescue call.

“Our firefighters, police, and emergency medical services personnel put their lives on the line everyday in order to keep us safe and to save lives,” Senator Whelan (D-Atlantic) said. “Under current law, first responders are open to civil lawsuits for damages they cause when responding to 911 calls. This bill will allow for them to do their jobs without fear of a lawsuit.”

The bill would correct a deficiency in the law and provide immunity to first responders who enter a home, business or other structure based upon a good faith belief that forced entry is necessary to provide emergency medical care or to prevent imminent bodily harm and where no occupant responds to the first responder’s request for entry in a reasonable period of time.

The legislation stems from a 2009 incident during which former Atlantic County resident Jaclyn Alden died in her California home because her door was locked and rescue crews would not go in without verbal or physical permission to enter. Alden repeatedly called 911 for help, but was unable to speak due to a medical emergency.

“Tragedies such as the death of Jaclyn Alden are completely preventable if we give our rescue workers the tools and protections they need to enter a home to save an incapacitated person’s life,” Senator Whelan said. “We must protect our first responders as well as those in need of assistance who may be unable to grant rescue workers permission to enter. Our rescue workers shouldn’t have to choose between potentially being sued and saving a life.”

Jaclyn Alden’s mother and sister, Anna Alden and Liza Oliver, have launched a nationwide campaign to get similar bills passed in all 50 states. In July, West Virginia became the first state to sign into law a bill providing civil immunity to first responders.

The bill will be introduced at the next Senate quorum call.