WHITEHALL, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The death of a local volunteer firefighter, with 20 years on the job, has inspired a state bill to help others like him qualify for more disability and death benefits.
Chief James Brooks Jr. was a firefighter for 20 years at the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company. Jim later became the second assistant chief. Last spring, Jim suffered an aortic tear while on scene of a structure fire and become hospitalized. Four months later, Jim passed away from his injuries.
“Since Jim has a torn aorta — they’re claiming he had bad veins, bad arteries and he didn’t. He didn’t have any of that, he had a torn aorta on the scene,” says Brian.
Brian Brooks, Jim’s uncle says his nephew’s story paints a clear picture of the constant battles volunteer firefighters face if they become injured in the line of duty.
For several months, lawmakers and family members have been advocating to bring Jim’s story to light. Lawmakers passed the Chief James Brooks Jr. Act in memory of the Washington County fallen hero. The bill will help volunteer firefighters qualify for disability and death benefits. “We were all really ecstatic [the bill passed],” says Jim’s uncle, Brian Brooks.
Jim’s family was in shock after hearing that Washington County and its third-party administrator Benetech refused to cover Jim’s expensive medical bills. The family has been pushing to receive benefits.
“Wherever you are in this state or this country as a firefighter — it’s a brother firefighter or a sister firefighter since we have more and more females in it. And I think a bill like this, we need to jump on it right away,” says State senator John Brooks.
Senator John Brooks is a lawmaker on Long Island. Sen. John Brooks has the same last name, however there is no relation to the family. John says after learning about Jim’s story, he knew legislative work needed to get done. “We want every firefighter to know if that happens anywhere in the state he or she is going to be protected the injury is considered line of duty,” says Sen. Brooks.
The Chief James Brooks Jr. Act will ensure firefighters who suffer with similar vascular injuries in the line of duty would receive medical coverage, without a question. Although this bill may not impact jim’s story, Brian hopes this will help others volunteer firefighters in the future. “We don’t want this happening again…it’s just too terrible for anyone else to go through.”