Heart attacks are not 'accidental' deaths

The Legislature's Labor Committee voted last Thursday to support the creation of a super special death benefit for Maine's firefighters.

LD 1558 would provide "accidental" death benefits for firefighters who die of heart attacks within six months of retirement from firefighting, to be paid through the Maine Public Employees Retirement System. That's the same system that funds retirement for most public employees, including Maine's teachers.

This is a bad bill that would make even worse law, and should never have emerged from the committee with a single vote of support. Lawmakers have an obligation to soundly reject this proposal when it comes to the floor for a full vote.

There is no provision in LD 1558 that, in order to qualify for special benefits, requires firefighters to have made any effort at all to take care of themselves or their hearts during their careers. It just allows that should a firefighter die of a heart attack, that death qualifies as "accidental," doubling the benefits paid out.

We're not suggesting firefighters don't deserve accidental death benefits. They do.

Firefighters have exceptionally stressful and dangerous jobs, and should they die on the job they should be accorded additional death benefits. But, a fatal heart attack is not an accidental death.

The bill, according to the Maine Municipal Association — which does not support LD 1558 — "is crafted in such a fashion that there will be few beneficiaries" based on a guess of how many firefighters may actually die of heart attacks within six months of retirement and, thus, insurance premium rates will not increase.

The bill may be crafted that way, but this crafty language is a false promise.

Maine suffers from an exceedingly high level of heart disease and death, so dying of a heart attack is not an uncommon event here.

And, should firefighters be awarded this special accidental death benefit through MainePERS, you better believe that every state worker and every public teacher will be clamoring for the same just as quickly as possible. Once that happens, "few beneficiaries" could become "many beneficiaries" and insurance premiums would be forced to rise to meet payment demands. Guaranteed.

The bill for those premiums? Paid by tax dollars collected from plenty of private-sector workers who are busy developing their own cardiovascular problems through job stress and other factors.

The sentiment behind this bill to acknowledge and honor firefighters' dangerous work environment is nice, but misguided.

Firefighters are, as a group, heavy smokers, and smoking plays a significant role in developing cardiovascular disease, as does family history. Add in poor personal fitness and eating habits, sprinkled with job stress, and you've got — as they say — a heart attack waiting to happen.

The public should not be forced to pay for that. Optimum cardiovascular health is a personal responsibility.


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ERNEST LABBE's picture

Quote from above

Quote from above article."Firefighters are, as a group, heavy smokers, and smoking plays a significant role in developing cardiovascular disease, as does family history. Add in poor personal fitness and eating habits, sprinkled with job stress, and you've got — as they say — a heart attack waiting to happen."

I don't know what fire station you hand around at but I would have to debate the heavy smokers statement. Anyone that is a fire fighter has to be in decent shape. Try dragging around all the equiptment they have to wear plus a charged hose and you will quickly find out what kind of shape they are in.

Bad eating habits. Hmmm it's meal time you set down to eat, not knowing if your going to get past the first bite before the alarm sounds. Maybe you tend to gulp the food down in a hurry.

Maybe the editorial staff should get off their butts and go out and see what life is in the real world. How real people keep food on the table for their family. What real stress never knowing when the alarm sounds whose child they are going to have to cut out of  demolished vehicle, or who's grand mother is trapped on the second floor of a burning building and will have to be carried down a ladder to safety.

Hopefully you will never need their help, but isn't it good to know they are there if you do.

JUDY MEYER's picture

The reference in the

The reference in the editorial to poor physical fitness, poor eating habits, and other risky behaviors was based on findings of the New England Journal of Medicine, which concluded:

"The risk of coronary heart disease events during fire suppression may be increased because many firefighters lack adequate physical fitness, have underlying cardiovascular risk factors, and have subclinical or clinical coronary heart disease ... Such problems are compounded during career tenure because more than 70% of fire departments lack programs to promote fitness and health. Most fire departments to not require require firefighters to exercise regularly, undergo periodic medical examinations, or have mandatory return-to-work evaluations after a major illness. In addition, several studies have shown the high prevalence of risk factors (obesity, high cholesterol, etc.) as well as lower-than-expected exercise tolerance."

We certainly didn't suggest that the case is true for every firefighter, but it is true when all firefighters are considered as a group.
The Editorial Board's objection to this benefit is that it's bad public policy to pay out when firefighters have no legislated requirement to take care of themselves during their careers, putting the burden of an unknown number of firefighters' personal decisions that contribute to development of cardiovascular disease on the backs of taxpayers.

-- Editorial Board


 's picture

this is going to pass without

this is going to pass without much debate.  Who wants to be "against" firemen?  Who doesn't support firemen?  It's like the Lewiston City Council caving in to firemen to allow them to harass us while we went to the Balloon Festival.  Keep this up and eventually all their goodwill will fade into the sunset.


Here we go as if 30 grand for

Here we go as if 30 grand for benes already being paid for ALL city,County, & state Employee is not enough they want more and more and more time to say the gigs up folks we are going public NO MORE CITY,COUNTY OR STATE JOBS a public company will handle the jobs at half the cost. that is the only solution oh yes the company would have to bid every 5 years this is so the unions who suck us all dry will be such a burdon of the new companies they would not be able to out bid and as such a new company would rise of course by this time the workers will decide that they would prefer a steady job and not sign the union card.


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