State rep. proposes legislation protecting first responders’ benefits if they get sick with COVID-19

BOSTON (WHDH) - “I don’t wish this on my worst enemy,” says Lieutenant Steve Lynch of the Plymouth Fire Department.

Lieutenant Steve Lynch is home recovering from COVID 19.

“I couldn’t smell the coffee in the morning, leaving the firehouse and when I got home, I progressively couldn’t smell hand sanitizer,” says Lt. Lynch, when asked about his first symptoms.

Lynch later tested positive, along with his wife and one of his children. He believes he got the virus responding to a known COVID medical call alongside EMS.

“I wore two things of gloves, I had a N95 mask, I thought I had all of the proper PPE,” says Lt.

178 members of the Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts have tested positive for COVID 19. 10 City of Boston firefighters.

250 police officers across the state have tested positive as well. 76 Boston police officers and 12 civilians.

Veteran Boston Police officer Jose Fontanez passed away last week.

“We know the risks, but again we’ll do it to help people,” says Lt. Lynch.
LEGISLATION PROPOSED TO PROTECT FIRST RESPONDER BENEFITS

State Representative James Arciero has introduced a bill that he says would protect a first responders’ benefits if they come down with COVID 19.

“You’re not using your vacation or sick time in the period of time you’re isolation self isolated or you’re hospitalized. That is part of your on work time, that is the job that you do,” says Representative Arciero.

It would include nurses under state employment as well.

“Our first responders are heroes. They are men and women on the front lines tackling this invisible enemy head on,” says Representative Arciero.

“It’s no different than we go into a building, we get hurt, we’re covered. This is a different type of burning building we are running into,” says Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts President Rich MacKinnon.

CONCERNS OVER PROPOSED BILL

But the Massachusetts Municipal Association says they have concerns.

In a statement, MMA Executive Director Geoff Beckwith says, “We strongly support legislation to ensure that any first responder who is exposed to the virus is fully protected, regardless of whether the exposure happened in the line of duty or not. This includes 100% payment of all medical costs, and providing special fully paid sick leave to cover all time needed for quarantining, testing, treatment and recovery.

Every city and town has already secured and paid for 100% coverage of all COVID-19 medical costs through their regular employee health insurance plans. However, the legislation that has been filed – House Bill 4611 and Senate Bill 2602 – would require municipalities to pay these medical costs separately, outside of their health plans – unnecessarily forcing taxpayers and municipalities to pay twice for all medical costs.

The solution is to require existing health plans to pay for all medical costs, and to create fully paid COVID-19 hazard duty leave for all first responders, preserving their regular earned sick leave balances.”

UNION RESPONDS TO CONCERNS

“I know our members are out there, we are responding and we’re taking on the risk, we’re getting sick,” says Rich MacKinnon.

The Professional Firefighters of Massachusetts and their legal team says there is nothing in the proposed bill that says health insurance or medical costs would increase, and the text doesn’t support that outcome if the bill is passed.

The legislation is currently in the public safety committee.

(Copyright (c) 2020 Sunbeam Television. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)