EMMITSBURG, MD-- The American fire service has put one in the win column for the families of responders who suffer fatal heart attacks.
The Department of Justice, which oversees the distribution of Public Safety Officers Benefits, has been at odds with survivors, firefighters and others over the interpretation of the Hometown Heroes Act.
The controversy left families of fallen firefighters without benefits. But, that has now changed, said Hal Bruno, chairman of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
"I am very pleased. It exceeded our expectation. It was the fair and right thing to do," Bruno said Saturday afternoon.
This week members of Congress clarified the language of the Hometown Heroes Act to recognize heart attacks as a line of duty cause of death. Bruno said it will now be easier for surviving families to have their claims approved.
On Sunday, President Bush told thousands attending the national memorial service that the Hometown Heroes' Act would move as it was originally intended. His comments received applause.
"That's the least we can do as we honor the families of those who have died in the line of service," Bush said.
Bruno said of the ruling: "Congress, the fire service and the White House are all on the same page ... This is important not only for right now, but for generations to come."
Heart attacks are the leading cause of death, and it's important that people recognize that. "Now, we have to do what we can to prevent those deaths from occurring."
He added that it's the responsibility of every single firefighter to promote health and safety.
The news of the ruling came as families of 87 firefighters who died in the line of duty in 2006 are participating in memorial weekend activities on the campus of the National Fire Academy.
JoAnn Tilton received word about her claim as she was preparing to leave her Texas home. "I couldn't believe it," she said. "It's been a long time coming." Her husband, Katy Fire Chief Gary Tilton, died of a heart attack in October 2004.
"It's taken about 35 phone calls, a news conference and about a dozen e-mails," she said. "It was a fair ruling. I'm glad this is over."
Even though it was over for her family, the Texas woman testified Thursday so legislators could hear what she went through. And, she's not finished.
She and her daughter, Laurie, plan to stay involved. "We are going to be advocates for others. There are still unresolved claims."
Assistant U.S. Fire Administrator Charlie Dickinson said he was pleased that the issues appear to be resolved. "These families are so deserving," he said. "Think about the sacrifices..."