Hometown Heroes Act Not Paying Federal Benefits To Families Of First Responders

By: Heather Haley Email
By: Heather Haley Email

It's been three years since President Bush signed a law granting federal benefits to families of first responders who die of heart attacks and strokes on the job. But the Fraternal Order of Police says not one dollar has been paid.

Firefighters with the Hazard Fire Department say their jobs can be stressful sometimes, from fires to emergency assistance calls, no two days are ever the same.

"Firefighting is hours of sheer boredom interrupted by moments of sheer terror," said Sergeant Stephen Argonis.

In the Hometown Heroes Act of 2003, congress said heart attacks and strokes on the job should be presumed to be line-of-duty deaths making survivors eligible for federal benefits.

"Whenever we have a main street fire, your stress level goes from mild to extremely high," said Captain Leonard Toler.

To qualify, the act states the victim has to have a heart attack or stroke within 24 hours have being involved in "non-routine stressful or strenuous work". President Bush left the benefit process up to the justice department, but the justice department lists 34 denied claims and 200 other requests that have not been acted upon.

"I just can't believe that they haven't done it. It’s something that should and really needs to be done for firemen because we're not in it to make money or nothing," Toler said.

The New England Journal of Medicine reports Harvard researchers found that firefighters face up to 100 times their normal risk of heart attack while working a fire.

"We're going from not really doing much to being inside of a structure fire with anywhere from 100 to 150 pounds on our back and it could be 900 or 1200 degrees inside," Argonis said.

The Hazard firefighters say they know all too well the stress of their job can lead to heart problems after one of their men died of a massive heart attack in 2001. But they say they will continue to do their job because they want to help people despite the many risks to their health.

Some members of congress say they have been pushing for the hometown hero’s benefits to be applied, but so far no funds have been dolled out.

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