D.C. Firefighters call it the difference between dying with “boots on” — in the line of duty — and “boots off.”
They know that any firefighter who dies in the line of duty will get benefits that help his or her family.
But firefighters who contract an illness from the dangerous work of fighting fires don’t get full retirement and medical benefits, even though D.C. Council passed a law to do just that four years ago.
The Presumptive Disabilities Act was passed in 2012, allowing firefighters who contract a work related illness to retire with full benefits. But funding for the benefits wasn’t approved.
Funding the benefits will cost about $7 million each year.
“It feels like we’re not being supported,” said Lawrence DiPietro, a former firefighter who said he is dying from pulmonary fibroisis contracted after 27 years of breathing in smoke. He testified at D.C. Council Tuesday.
“You feel discarded, while there is plenty of recognition — the Mayor and the Council have been very supportive at all levels — there’s this last piece, the money,” said Ed Smith, president of Local 36 of firefighters’ union IAFF.
This isn’t the first time the issue has been raised at council. Smith remembered Preston Williams, a D.C. firefighter who testified on the same issue in 2012, but died before the funding for the law was passed.
D.C. Fire and EMS Chief Gregory Dean said he supports the law, but that District government must find the money to pay for it. “That’s what the mayor and council will do. They will look at ways to figure out can do this and when they can do this.”