Leahy Launches Drive To Extend Federal Death Payments To Nonprofit EMS Personnel

. . . Bennington Tragedy Spotlights Coverage Gaps

U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Thursday introduced legislation to extend the federal Public Safety Officers Benefits (PSOB) program to paramedics and emergency medical technicians killed or disabled in the line of duty who are employed by nonprofit organizations and ambulance services.  U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is a cosponsor of the bill.

Named the “Dale Long Emergency Medical Service Providers Protection Act” in honor of the Bennington emergency medical service provider who was tragically killed in an ambulance accident last week, the bill would qualify an estimated 1200 Vermont EMS personnel for the PSOB program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Leahy said, “We have been working to address this gap in the federal program for some time, and the loss of Dale Long reminds everyone that first responders of many uniforms literally put their lives at risk every day.”  Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the PSOB program and the new Leahy bill.  Leahy has successfully steered earlier PSOB improvements into law.  “These brave emergency professionals never let their communities down when a call comes in, and no one asks the lifesavers at an emergency scene whether they work for a nonprofit agency.  We should erase that distinction from this program.”

Sanders said, “The men and women employed by nonprofit EMS companies put their lives on the line for their friends, family and neighbors every day.  They fill an essential need of their communities, yet, when they are hurt or even killed in the line of duty, their families are left out in the cold.  This legislation would give them the respect they deserve, the respect they earned.”

“The Vermont Ambulance Association has been working with Senator Leahy on legislation to broaden the definition of EMS providers eligible for the Public Safety Officers Death Benefit,” said Jim Finger, President of the Vermont Ambulance Association.  “The unfortunate death of Paramedic Dale Long has brought this to the forefront and we support and are proud to have Senator Leahy introduce this legislation that extends the benefits to all not for profit Emergency Medical Service Providers.”

Congress created the PSOB program more than three decades ago to provide tangible help – including to families -- to police, firefighters and medics who lose their lives or are disabled in the line of duty.  The benefits now only apply to public safety officers employed by federal, state, and local government entities.  With volunteers providing emergency medical service to many communities in Vermont and across the country, the Dale Long Emergency Medical Service Provider Protection Act would remedy this gap by extending the PSOB program to cover nonprofit EMS personnel.

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Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy
Introduction of the Dale Long Emergency Medical Service Provider Protection Act”
June 25, 2009

Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation that will correct an inequality in the Department of Justice’s Public Safety Officers Benefits (PSOB) Program by extending benefits to non-profit EMS providers who die or are disabled in the line of duty. I am pleased to be joined in this effort by Senator Sanders. 

Vermonters were deeply saddened earlier this week when we received word that veteran EMT specialist Dale Long died in a tragic, on-duty accident in Bennington.  Dale Long had a superb 25-year career as a Vermont EMT, and I extend our deepest condolences to his family, to the Bennington Rescue Squad, and to the entire Vermont EMT community.

First responders nationwide literally put their lives at risk every day for the people of their communities. They represent the best of our nation’s dedicated service to others, and Dale Long was a solid example of that tradition.  He was Bennington Rescue Squad’s 2008 EMT of the Year, and a 2009 recipient of the American Ambulance Association’s Star of Life Award.  I had the pleasure of meeting Dale just last month when he visited my office during the Star of Life festivities.

This tragedy highlights a major shortcoming in the current PSOB program, which Congress established over 30 years ago to provide assistance to police, fire and medics who lose their lives or are disabled in the line of duty. The benefit, though, only applies to public safety officers employed by a federal, state, and local government entity. With many communities around the United States choosing to have their emergency medical services provided by non-profit agencies, medics working for non-profit services unfortunately are not eligible for benefits under the PSOB program.

Non-profit public safety officers provide identical services to governmental officers and do so daily in the same dangerous environments. With a renewed appreciation for the important community service of first responders since the national tragedy of September 11, 2001, more people are answering the call to serve their communities. At the same time, more rescue workers are falling through the cracks of the PSOB program. 

The Dale Long Emergency Medical Service Provider Protection Act would correct this inequality by extending the PSOB program to cover non-profit EMS officers who provide emergency medical and ground or air ambulance service. These emergency professionals protect and promote the public good of the communities they serve, and we should not unfairly penalize them and their families simply because they work or volunteer for a non-profit organization. 

I ask unanimous consent that a copy of the bill be printed in the Record, and I yield the floor.

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