WASHINGTON - On Wednesday the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a bill to extend federal benefits to the surviving families of paramedics and emergency medical technicians killed or disabled in the line of duty who work or volunteer for nonprofit ambulance services. U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) championed this provision as part of a broad, bipartisan package of reforms to the Public Safety Officers' Benefit (PSOB) program designed to help ease the burden on the surviving families of fallen public safety officers across the country.
Leahy first introduced legislation to open the PSOB program to nonprofit EMS workers after Bennington emergency medical technician Dale Long was tragically killed in an ambulance accident in June 2009. The measure would qualify an estimated 1200 Vermont EMS personnel for the PSOB program, which is run by the U.S. Department of Justice.
"We have been working to address this gap in the federal program for some time, and the loss of Dale Long reminded everyone that first responders of many uniforms literally put their lives at risk every day," said Leahy. "These brave emergency professionals never let their communities down when a call comes in, and no one asks the lifesavers at an emergency scene whether they work for the federal government, a state government, a local government, or a nonprofit agency. This provision will erase that unnecessary distinction from the PSOB program."
Leahy chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the PSOB program, and he has successfully steered several PSOB improvements into law during his time on the Judiciary Committee.
Congress created the PSOB program more than three decades ago to provide tangible help to the surviving families of police, firefighters and medics who lose their lives or are disabled in the line of duty. Under current law, the PSOB program applies only to public safety officers employed by federal, state, and local government entities. With volunteers providing emergency medical service to many communities in Vermont and across the country, the Dale Long Emergency Medical Service Provider Protection Act would close this gap by extending the PSOB program to cover nonprofit EMS personnel who provide pre-hospital care.
U.S. Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) is a cosponsor of the House bill that passed Wednesday, and U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is a cosponsor of Leahy's companion bill in the Senate.