Miller, O’Mara introduce bill connecting firefighters with vital health care

Legislation would cover costs for medical exams

HARRISBURG, Sept. 10 – As the nation prepares to remember and honor the 20th anniversary of September 11, and in light of recent studies linking firefighters to increased rates of cancer, heart-related diseases and suicide, state Reps. Dan Miller, D-Allegheny, and Jennifer O’Mara, D-Delaware, are introducing a bill that would set up a new state grant program to cover the costs of annual medical examinations for all firefighters in the commonwealth.

Already, some fire companies have started to require firefighters to undergo annual physical examinations that include stress tests and preventative health exams to be proactive in catching physical or mental health issues early. However, the lawmakers noted, these exams cost, on average, $500 to $600 per firefighter, a cost that can serve as a financial barrier that prevents firefighters from seeking the care they need and deserve.

“Cost should never stand in the way of a firefighter seeking the mental and physical health care they need in order to continue fighting fires, saving lives and keeping our communities safe,” Miller said. “They have our back and now it’s time for us to have their back. This legislation could very well save lives.”

The lawmakers’ legislation, to be known as H.B. 1853, would provide a new grant pathway for fire companies that choose to require these physical exams. Under the bill, fire companies that opt into the grant program would need to certify that each firefighter receives a minimum two hours of mental health training specifically related to the fire service annually and each firefighter must have completed state firefighter 1 certification to receive the reimbursement. Additionally, language includes privacy protection and support for collective bargaining agreements that may otherwise supersede aspects of the bill.

“Every day our firefighters are asked to respond to traumatic events, to be heroes to help those in desperate need. These calls take a toll – not just physically, but mentally as well,” said O’Mara, who is the co-prime sponsor of the legislation. “This legislation would help connect fire departments and companies with tools and resources to promote physical and mental health and safety, and to help those who help us when we need it most.”