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Florida leaders honor fallen firefighters, file legislation to improve COVID-related workers comp

Published: Sep. 21, 2021 at 8:13 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Florida leaders named and honored 18 firefighters Tuesday morning who had lost their lives in the line of duty last year. Among the 18 firefighters honored in this year’s ceremony, we’re told three died from COVID infections, acquired in the line of duty.

“This marks their final call,” said Jimmy Patronis, Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal.

Top Florida fire officials tell us the bar to qualify as a line of duty COVID death is high.

“It’s a tough process and it’s heartbreaking. It’s truly heartbreaking,” said Rick Butcher, Chairman of the Florida Joint Council of Fire & Emergency Services.

Unfortunately, families of first responders who have died from COVID are facing obstacles collecting the benefits they believe they’re owed. Representative Elizabeth Fetterhoff has seen first hand in her community how high the bar truly is.

“We’ve actually had two officers that have passed away from COVID-19 recently, one leaving behind a wife and four kids and they’re being denied his death benefits.”

It’s why she’s sponsoring legislation that would ensure first responders who acquire COVID in the field will qualify for compensation.

“COVID is a direct - something that they’re dealing with directly, and they need to be taken care of,” said Fetterhoff.

Under the Governor’s previous emergency order, first responders had these protections, but they lapsed when the order expired. Fetterhoff’s bill has already garnered the support of Florida’s Fire Marshal.

“Wouldn’t be even opposed if they wanted to make it retroactive to January 1st, 2020,” said Patronis.

Fetterhoff had this message for any group thinking of standing in the way of her legislation:

“Anybody that puts themselves out there as being against this, you know, they’re in the line of fire then.”

It’s unclear exactly how many first responders have died of COVID since the start of the pandemic in Florida, but scattered reports suggest the number is likely in the hundreds.

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