Florida fire officials, lawmakers discuss bill for 1st responder PTSD benefits

DORAL, FLA. (WSVN) - A newly passed Florida bill is helping those who help save lives cope with the life-threatening effects of their jobs.

Florida Senate Bill 376 was passed during a month that saw one crisis after another in South Florida.

From the sudden collapse of the pedestrian bridge at Florida International University to the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, first responders were there.

“Our first responders fight for us every single day, and it was time for us to fight for them,” said Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer and state fire marshal. “Our first responders show up for us, and it was time for us to show up.”

Patronis joined other government and fire rescue officials to discuss the legislation at the Firefighter Memorial Building in Doral, Tuesday morning.

“Before this bill was passed, before this bill was signed last week, the workers comp system in Florida did not exist to support our first responders,” he said. “But that’s no more.”

Senate Bill 376 provides post-traumatic stress disorder benefits to first responders throughout the state.

“Everyone knows firefighters, the work they do is unpayable … so when I heard the governor signed it, I said, ‘Yes. It’s time for you guys to get something good,'” said Florida Sen. Daphne Campbell, a co-sponsor of the bill.

The state legislature unanimously supported the passage of the measure that provides the desperately needed support.

“The suicide rate among our firefighters is five times higher than the rest of the population of the United States,” said Patronis. “With our first responder community, it’s over double: 10 times higher.”

Fire chiefs from across South Florida are giving a collective thanks. “This is one of the silent killers of our profession, and it is important that we get it addressed,” said Miami-Dade Fire Rescue Chief Dave Downey. “It’s something we all deal with every single day. We tell our new firefighters that somebody’s worse day is your every day.”

“This is one piece of legislation that we hope we never have to take advantage of,” said Miami Beach Fire Rescue Chief Virgil Fernandez.

But they are grateful to have it for those already on the force and those who may decide to serve in the future.

“It could mean a world of difference,’ said Omar Blanco, president of the Metro-Dade International Association of Firefighters. “It could provide firefighters, paramedics, police officers with the ability to have a long career, and to be there to enjoy their families, and ultimately their retirement.”

Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed the measure into law last week.

The legislation will also require cities, counties and other entities that employ first responders to provide educational training related to mental health awareness, prevention and treatment.

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