1. #1
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    Default VT Passes new fire related legislation

    SOUTH BURLINGTON With a blazing red ladder truck and two dozen professional firefighters as a backdrop, Gov. James Douglas Friday signed into law two bills designed to prevent cigarette-related fire deaths and financially protect firefighters who suffer heart attacks in the line of duty.

    The new laws call for all cigarettes sold in Vermont to be self-extinguishing by May 2006, and immediately ensures firefighters who suffer work-related heart disease either receive workers' compensation or their families receive death benefits should they die.

    "Heart attacks are the number one killer of firefighters," said Steven Locke, president of the Professional Firefighters Association of Vermont. "Between 100 to 110 firefighters die per year, and 40 percent to 50 percent are due to heart attacks. It's a terrible, terrible statistic."

    Until now, firefighters who suffered a heart attack, stroke or other heart-related illness within 72 hours of answering an emergency call were forced to prove the illness was job related if insurance companies contested their claim. The new law provides firefighters with the benefit of the doubt, and forces insurance companies to prove otherwise.

    "We all recognize the extreme mental stress that is incumbent with being a firefighter," Douglas said during a 15-minute ceremony held at the South Burlington fire station. "This is a small bill in some respects, but rest assured, it is an important issue to many firefighters and their families, and will make a big difference in securing the future of those who are injured in the line of duty."

    A dozen Vermont towns, including Barre, Montpelier and St. Johnsbury, as well as the Vermont Air National Guard employ about 250 full-time firefighters. The new law, which does not cover volunteer firefighters, brings Vermont in step with 37 other states that recognize stress associated with being a professional firefighter increases the risk of heart disease, firefighters said.

    "We always have to worry about what may happen during an incident," said Matt Vinci, a South Burlington firefighter. "This will give us the peace of mind we need to safely and effectively continue to do our jobs."

    The new law, which takes effect immediately, was spawned by the 2002 death of Whiting Fire Chief Clarence Birchmore, who suffered a heart attack while responding to a car accident, Douglas said.

    Insurance officials rejected his estate's claim that answering the early morning call triggered the heart attack, and denied Birchmore's widow death benefits. The state eventually overturned the decision, but "the case raised questions" and prompted the law change, Douglas said.

    "Firefighters and their families will now have a greater sense of comfort," Douglas said.

    Douglas on Friday also signed a law that will make Vermont the second state to require that all cigarettes, when left unattended, self-extinguish.

    The law is based closely on legislation already enacted in New York, and is expected to reduce the number of fire-related deaths caused by cigarettes.

    According to the American Burn Association, nearly 1,000 people nationwide die in cigarette-related fires, and some 3,000 additional people are injured. The annual loss of life and property exceeds $6 billion.

    In Vermont, nearly 40 people were killed in cigarette-related fires over the past decade. Between 1999 and 2003, the last year statistics are available, 15 of Vermont's 65 fire deaths were caused by cigarettes.

    "About one-quarter of the fire deaths in Vermont are attributed to smoking materials," Douglas said. "We hope this bill will save some lives."

    Fire-safe cigarettes are less densely packed and wrapped with a less porous paper band containing ridges that work like speed bumps to slow a cigarette's burn when not being puffed. The modified band does not increase a cigarette's price or toxicity, but it does restrict oxygen from reaching the burning ember, causing it to extinguish.

    Firefighters and a host of safety advocates support the new requirement.

    "I did not think there would ever be a day when someone would come to me and say, 'Hey, chief, cigarettes won't be able to start fires anymore,'" said Douglas Brent, South Burlington's fire chief. "When you think of all the people who have died in smoking-related fires, and all the firefighters injured in the line duty, this is pretty monumental."

    Safety advocates expect other states to soon follow New York and Vermont's lead.

    "There is now a push in California, New Hampshire and Oregon," said Jessa Block, spokeswoman for the Vermont Medical Association. "We are excited other states are looking to Vermont as an example of what they can do to protect people."


    Vermont isn't "progressive" by any means, but this is a step forward in the right direction. I personally know Chief Brent and Capt. Vinci very well. Both of these guys have pushed very hard within the state for legislation on anything fire related that can improve the communities in any way.

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    Its about time. We've had the heart provision here in Fla for years.
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    IAAI-NFPA-IAFC/VCOS-Retired IAFF

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    It's good to see the state take the lead in firesafety by passing the self-extingushing cigerette legislation. I am sure there was a tremendous anmount of pressure from the tabacoo companies on the legislature for them not to do the right thing ..it's good to see that they didn't bow to the pressure.

    It's also good to see them adapt the heart bill ... unfortunatly it only covers a very small percentage of the firefighters in Vermont as it is a predominatly volunteer state. According to the article, it was the death of a firefighter from Whiting, who was a VOLUNTEER that spurred the legislation ... sorta ironic. Maybe one of these days this same protection will be extended to volunteers as well.....

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    Originally posted by LaFireEducator
    It's also good to see them adapt the heart bill ... unfortunatly it only covers a very small percentage of the firefighters in Vermont as it is a predominatly volunteer state. According to the article, it was the death of a firefighter from Whiting, who was a VOLUNTEER that spurred the legislation ... sorta ironic. Maybe one of these days this same protection will be extended to volunteers as well.....
    I agree. Gov. Douglas did drop the ball on that one, and everything that should have been included, wasn't. I have a feeling there is going to be some rallying of the troops done, and that volunteers will be included.

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    Default FYI...

    Contact your representatives -- if they're making them for Canada, NY, and now VT, they can make them for the rest of the country:

    1. Cigarette Fire Safety Act of 2005 (Introduced in House)[H.R.1850.IH]

    2. Cigarette Fire Safety Act of 2005 (Introduced in Senate)[S.389.IS]
    "When I was young, my ambition was to be one of the people who made a difference in this world. My hope is to leave the world a little better for my having been there."
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    The Fire-Safe act is something that can truly make a difference and should be of utmost importance to the fire service. It will be interesting to see if we can come together and use our COLLECTIVE muscle on this issue.

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    Post Ah, yes...but there's a catch

    Volunteer firefighters say they were left out
    rasrh
    RUTLAND, Vt. (AP) - Volunteer firefighters say they were
    inappropriately left out of a new law that gave their full-time,
    professional colleagues benefits that they believe they also
    deserve.
    Passed on the final day of the session, the firefighter
    protection act rewrites the way workers' compensation and life
    insurance benefits are reviewed for career firefighters who suffer
    a heart attack or stroke during or within 72 hours of responding to
    an emergency call.
    In the past, the state's roughly 300 career firefighters, who
    suffered heart attack, stroke or other heart-related illnesses,
    were forced to prove their illness was job-related if insurance
    companies contested their claim.
    The new law shifts the burden of proof onto insurance companies
    to prove that the ailment was not work-related.
    The improved benefit was almost universally supported by
    lawmakers and Gov. James Douglas signed it into law last month
    surrounded by a cadre of firefighters during a signing ceremony in
    South Burlington.
    But left out of the new law are the state's roughly 5,500
    volunteer firefighters who must still demonstrate cause and effect
    if their health fails within 72 hours of answering a call.
    The omission has left many volunteer firefighters angry.
    Orwell Volunteer Fire Department Assistant Chief Allen Alger
    said he never knows how many volunteers he'll have on hand to deal
    with an emergency - something a full-time department doesn't need
    to worry about.
    "They talk about (career firefighters) having stress. I feel we
    have as much if not more," he said.
    Volunteer firefighters were included in the original version of
    the bill but were taken out late in the process because of division
    in the volunteer ranks about whether the new benefit would have
    costly side effects.
    "The workers' compensation issue is one that we had hoped we
    could have addressed this year, but it came to the governor's desk
    applying to only career firefighters," Jason Gibbs, a spokesman
    for Douglas, said. "If the issues can be resolved, the governor
    hopes to address it in the next legislative session."
    Rutland Fire Chief Robert Schlachter, who is president of the
    Vermont State Firefighters Association that represents 4,600
    volunteer firefighters in the state, said some association members
    worried the new law could lead to increased workers' compensation
    rates or mandatory physical exams for volunteers.
    "There are those who say the career firefighters tossed the
    volunteers off to the side, but the truth is, the volunteers
    weren't able to articulate their position at the 11th hour," he
    said. "It illustrates the danger when you're not united on an
    issue."
    Schlachter said he and others feared insurance companies would
    impose new requirements or higher rates as a way of minimizing
    their risks.
    Covering the volunteers would have cost towns and taxpayers
    without controls, said Steven Jeffrey, executive director of the
    Vermont League of Cities and Towns, which insures most of the
    state's municipal fire departments.
    By forcing insurance companies to prove heart attacks and other
    ailments aren't work related, the state has opened the door for
    people with pre-existing medical conditions and unhealthy
    lifestyles to receive benefits, he said.
    Full-time firefighters are already required to take annual
    physicals. If volunteers were granted the same presumptive benefit
    the new law gives to full-time firefighters, Jeffrey said VLCT
    would have to either require regular medical exams or raise
    insurance rates.
    Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, said he intended to
    address the issue when the Legislature returns in the winter.
    ---
    Information from: Rutland Herald, http://www.rutlandherald.com/


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    As much as I may hate to say this, the reason (coming from the Gov. himself) t hat Volunteers aren't covered....

    Because the MAJORITY of VT Volunteer departments do not have a physical process. They just ignore their health.

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