New federal regulations to expand the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program to cover those who die of heart attacks and strokes in the line of duty will soon be available for public review, the Congressional Fire Services Institute reported Monday.
The new regulations were drafted by the PSOB Office and the Office of General Counsel, and were finally sent to the federal register last week, said CFSI Executive Director Bill Webb.
This comes more than a year and a half after the changes were signed into law through the Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefits Act of 2003.
Webb said the pace for implementing the new law has been quite slow, even by usual government standards.
"It has taken an awfully long time," he said. "We have been working and staying in contact with the DOJ, and we wrote the Attorney General, dated June 23, '05 asking for a status report. Last week we did hear that the rule has been sent to the federal register."
This means the regulations will be published shortly, and the publication will be followed by a public comment period of 60 to 90 days, Webb said. In the meantime, the DOJ is expected to implement an interim rule, Webb said.
The proposed rules were published in the July 26 Federal Register (70 FR 43078) and are available online at the web site for the Federal Register..
CFSI has also been tracking the progress of the new regulations on behalf of other fire and law enforcement organizations that supported the bill, including the National Volunteer Fire Council, the International Association of Fire Fighters, the International Association of Fire Chiefs and the Fraternal Order of Police.
"The only thing I'm looking for is something that is consistent with the law that was passed," Webb said. "Something that is consistent with the spirit of the law and the intent of the law."
The PSOB program currently provides a one-time death benefit payment of $275,658 to families of public safety officers (fire, police and EMS) killed in the line of duty, as well as to officers permanently disabled while on duty.
Under the current regulations, however, it has often been ruled that deaths by heart attack or stroke were not a direct result of an injury sustained in the line of duty.
The Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefit Act will change the law to include deaths by heart attack or stroke that occur while on duty or within 24 hours after participating in a physical training exercise or responding to an emergency situation.
According to CFSI, the change in the PSOB Program will not be retroactive, but will apply to cases effective December 15th, 2003, the date the measure was signed into law.
The legislation was originally introduced in the House by North Carolina Representative Bob Etheridge, and was inspired by the death of a North Carolina firefighter.