New bill in honor of fallen Whitehall firefighter passes Assembly, Senate

NY Capitol News

Volunteer firefighters holding a sign advocating for the passage of the Chief James Brooks Jr. Act, in memory of a Whitehall firefighter who died last year.

ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner (D-Round Lake) announced that a bill that ensures more volunteer firefighters qualify for disability and death benefits passed the Assembly and the Senate. The legislation will soon be sent to the governor.

Woerner’s bill ensures that volunteer firefighters who suffer a vascular rupture related to official duties and activities that causes death or disability are covered under the Volunteer Firefighter’s Benefits Law (VFBL). While these types of injuries are generally covered under the VBFL, Woerner says certain insurers fight these claims and say that the injuries are unrelated to their service. The new bill, called the Chief James Brooks Jr. Act, will provide presumptive coverage for vascular ruptures similar to the coverage for heart attacks.

“Volunteer firefighters put their lives on the line to protect us without any compensation for their service,” said Woerner. “These brave men and women are heroes, and they shouldn’t have to worry about covering the costs of medical expenses because their insurance denied them. This not only causes distress for their families, but also unnecessarily increases litigation costs and delays the payment of qualifying benefits to volunteer firefighters injured while protecting their communities.”

The bill was inspired by Chief James Brooks Jr., who was a member of the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company for 20 years and served as an assistant chief. Brooks died in September after tearing an artery while responding to a structure fire in Dresden four months earlier. He was taken to Rutland Regional Medical Center and later flown to University of Vermont Medical Center, where he suffered a series of debilitating strokes during a surgery to repair the damaged valve.

Brooks, who was 45 when he died, had his workers’ compensation claim denied despite state law requiring Washington County to cover expenses.

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