HARRISBURG, PA – Philadelphia firefighters are looking to get their peers in the city’s Firefighters and Paramedics Union the same disability coverage they enjoy.
The Heart and Lung Act of 1935 compels employers of public-safety workers such as police and firefighters – but not EMTs and paramedics – to get their full pay and health coverage during time off for an on-the-job injury.
With help from Rep. Frank Farry, a Bucks County Republican and volunteer fireman, the union, Local 22, is pushing to extend those protections to emergency medical workers, making them “financially whole” while on disability leave.
Besides the make-up pay, the amended measure would let a firefighter unhappy with treatment directed under worker’s compensation to seek care from doctors specified under the Heart and Lung Act, according to the bill’s sponsor and union members. Farry says that option “actually allows for them to get back to work quicker.”
Philadelphia stands out in hiring EMTs and paramedics as city employees who are members of the local firefighters union.
The proposed change is not without critics. Most Pennsylvania municipalities have volunteers provide those services or contract with private medics.
Smaller townships and municipalities with third-party medics are concerned that the measure could be interpreted to cover their contracted forces as well, said Elam Herr, assistant executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors.
Townships and small cities that rely on volunteers “are not overly flush with excess cash,” she said.
Farry said the bill could be altered to address those concerns. He is proposing changes to ensure the legislation would apply to city EMTs and paramedics with firefighting duties – but not volunteer paramedics or EMTs.
Rep. Stephen Barrar (R., Delaware), chairman of the House Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee, said he supports the bill “in concept” but believes it can be strengthened. “We want to make sure the language is clear,” Barrar said.
Chuck McQuilkin, the sargeant-at-arms for Local 22, says the union is hoping to limit the proposal to Philadelphia, so other municipalities don’t feel threatened by its potential passage.
“We’re trying to gear it just toward Philadelphia,” McQuilkin said. “We’re trying to get what’s best for our people.”