ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Lawmakers, firefighters and family are pushing for the passage of the Chief James Brooks Jr. Act, in memory of a fallen Whitehall firefighter.
“I get a little emotional because it’s my nephew,” Whitehall Deputy Chief Brian Brooks, who’s also Jim’s uncle, said.
They gathered outside the New York State Fallen Firefighters Memorial to advocate for the bill Monday afternoon.
“This is so important for all volunteer fire departments across the state,” said Kathleen Brooks, Jim’s sister.
Jim Brooks was a volunteer firefighter for decades and the second assistant chief for the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Company.
Last spring, he suffered an aortic tear and was hospitalized.
“My brother came home from the hospital, after being in the hospital for three months. We had fully expected he would be covered, all his medical expenses would be covered when he came home, and so were very surprised to find out that was not the case,” his sister explained.
Jim passed away months later in September. He was 44.
The deputy chief says Washington County and its third-party administrator would not cover his million dollars worth of medical bills, alleging he had a pre-existing condition.
The legislation in his name would make sure firefighters suffering similar vascular ruptures in the line of duty would receive medical coverage.
“Our responsibility is to make sure that if they are injured in the line of duty, that their health care is taken care of, that their families are protected and cared for,” said Assemblywoman Carrie Woerner.
Jim’s family hopes the bill will ensure other families don’t find themselves in similar situations.
“If it was me, I’d be homeless. We can’t have that, we can’t have volunteer firemen worry about how they’re going to take care of their families,” Brian said.
There’s also hope the bill will help with diminishing volunteer firefighting recruits.
Jim’s name will be added to the state’s memorial later this year.