NEW JERSEY – Inspired by the family of a longtime Sussex County volunteer EMT, Eskil “Scott” Danielson, who died in the line of duty in 2016, Assemblymen Hal Wirths and Parker Space sought to change the state’s workers’ compensation law to protect surviving spousal benefits for all emergency responders.
Their bill was unanimously passed by the Assembly Labor Committee Thursday, which the assemblymen say is a credit to the persistence of Danielson’s wife, Tammy, who has been vocal in her prolonged legal battle to secure workers’ compensation payments and survivor benefits.
“First responder families who have a loved one die in the line of duty also make the ultimate sacrifice. Then, to have to battle insurance companies to get the benefits they deserve while they are grieving is another tragedy. This bill clarifies existing law so that all emergency responders, career and volunteer, are covered equally,” Wirths (R-Sussex, Warren, Morris) said.
Current law provides volunteers and professional public safety and law enforcement personnel the right to workers’ compensation if a cardiovascular or cerebrovascular injury or death occurs when responding to an emergency.
This bill (A161) expands the individuals covered by the law to include any recognized emergency management member doing volunteer duty including 911 dispatchers and EMTs. It also covers responders who die within 24 hours of an emergency or while carrying out post-incident protocols.
Danielson, who was 49 when he died, was serving as a volunteer EMT with the Lakeland Emergency Squad when he was first to respond to a motor vehicle accident involving his daughter. After treating his daughter at the scene and following the ambulance to the hospital, he collapsed and died of a heart attack.
“From EMTs to firefighters, all first responders knowingly put the public above their own personal safety and security, but their families should be provided for in the event they die in the line of duty. Putting protections in place to ensure that New Jersey’s bravest public servants receive the same survivor benefits takes an unnecessary burden off their shoulders,” Space (R-Sussex, Warren, Morris) said.
Thursday’s action by the committee marks the first time the legislation introduced in 2018 was considered in the Assembly. The Senate companion bill (S651) is sponsored by Sen. Steve Oroho (R-Sussex, Warren, Morris) and is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.