Family of deceased volunteer firefighter push for denied benefits to cover $1M in medical bills

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WHITEHALL, N.Y. (NEWS10) — The family of a deceased local volunteer firefighter is pushing for benefits, which they say are being denied.

Jim Brooks was just 44 years old when he passed away in September from what his colleagues and family say were the effects of an injury the Whitehall volunteer firefighter sustained while responding to a fire four months before his death.

“He was reaching for something in his truck and around the truck when he felt the pain in his back, which turned out later to be torn aorta,” said Brian Brooks.

Brooks is the president of the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company and Jim’s uncle. He says Jim suffered a series of strokes.

“He was in a wheelchair, and the only thing he had was the use of his right arm.”

Brian says his family’s heartache was compounded when Washington County and its third-party administrator Benetech refused to cover the more than $1 million in outstanding medical bills that added up while Jim struggled for four months before he passed away due to complications from the original injury, which his family says caused a pulmonary embolism.

Brian says the county and Benetech insist that the injury was due to a pre-existing condition.

“Jim had high blood pressure, which he had been diagnosed with before, and he was under mediation for that and under a doctor’s care. There was nothing that said he had a torn aorta, problems with his veins,” said Brian.

Brian says Jim passed all his previous physicals, and if any deficiency had been detected, that alone would have disqualified Jim from his work within the fire department.

Jim was not married and didn’t have any children. Brian says Jim’s mom is now pursuing legal action to get the benefits so the bills can be paid.

Bills, which Brian and town officials say, are supposed to be covered under the Volunteer Firefighter’s Benefit Law.

Town Supervisor John Rozell says he has sent a letter to the county board of supervisors to reconsider their decision.

“We’ve got to back our local fire companies, and this is one aspect where they have been let down with their answer,” he said.

Brian added, “The problem is that you don’t hire athletic athletes. You don’t hire anybody. They walk in. And the least you can do is take care of them.”

NEWS10 ABC reached out to Washington County Attorney Roger Wickes and Benetech, who did not respond to our requests for a comment in time for broadcast.

The attorney for Jim Brooks’s estate told NEWS10’s Anya Tucker that he is very confident that the injury occurred while in the line of duty and they will win the case.

The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, more commonly known as FASNY, released the following statement:

“If FASNY had not fought for decades to get and continue to have presumptive heart coverage for volunteers it would be significantly more challenging for volunteers to get coverage of heart emergencies for ailments related to their fire service.”

Robert Leonard/Spokesperson for FASNY

Leonard says Presumptive Heart Coverage is based on the presumption that if a firefighter has a heart issue while on a fire call, it would be related to their service.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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