CHICAGO — Firefighters union boss Jim Tracy wants city leaders to promise line-of-duty death benefits to families of firefighters and paramedics who die from the new coronavirus.
On Wednesday, after a second firefighter died from complications related to COVID-19, Tracy said Commissioner Richard Ford II refused to back his call to give full honors and benefits to firefighters who die from coronavirus, a move that would guarantee spouses of fallen firefighters medical coverage and full pay.
“I told him, there are 4,800 of us who answer the call every day that need to have confidence the commissioner is going to fight tooth-and-nail for us to protect our families. [Ford] said, ‘It’s not in his power.'” Tracy said. “I think it’s disgusting.”
Ford wasn’t available to comment Wednesday. A fire department spokesman said the circumstances required for a line of duty deaths are “established outside of the fire department,” a situation that’s under review as it relates to a coronavirus-related fatality, which isn’t a “typical line of duty death.”
Tracy accused fire officials of “sandbagging” first responders during a pandemic that makes every call as risky as running into a burning building.
He pointed to interim police Supt. Charlie Beck’s quick decision to designated the coronavirus-related death of police officer Marco DiFranco as a line-of-duty death — and the Trump administration’s move to give federal line-of-duty death benefits to first responders who die from COVID-19 — as examples of how his union members should be treated.
“We took these jobs knowing we risk our lives knowing that if something happened on the job our families would have support. We’re not seeing that support,” he said. “We want the mayor and commissioner fighting with us to make sure our members are adequately taken care of if God forbid one of us dies of COVID-19. They should be embarrassed.”
Tracy, who is married with three kids, says his three daughters beg him not to go to work.
“I have to tell them that I have to go to work. And they beg me, ‘Please don’t be around anybody that’s sick,” he said. “My girls are 8, 5 and 2 and they have a better grasp at the risk we’re taking everyday more than the fire commissioner as far as I’m concerned.”
Tracy said the line-of-duty death designation isn’t just about money. Officers who die on the job have their name etched in a national monument in Colorado honoring their service and sacrifice.
“Look, I’m a grunt who runs into burning buildings and passes off people to the medics. I didn’t sign up for all of this,” Tracy said. “But if [the city] is going to deny firefighters on the front lines that honor, I’ll never stop fighting for ’em.”