|October 17, 2007
In this issue:
Special Member Update: Changes Made to PSOB Determination Process
Denials of Hometown Heroes Claims Should Be Appealed Immediately
The Department of Justice (DoJ) has issued two policy memorandums to the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Program (PSOB) that will significantly change the determination process for PSOB applications made under the Hometown Heroes Survivor Benefits Act. The new policy, which is effective immediately, clarifies the language of the regulations and is intended to fix the problems that have been plaguing the determination process.
Under the new policy, no activity shall be understood to be "performed as a matter of routine" solely based on the public safety agency describing it as "routine" or "ordinary." The determination of whether an activity is "routine" will be informed less by how often it is performed than by its stressful or strenuous character. Responding to an emergency call shall presumptively be treated as non-routine.
DoJ has also changed its policy for determining whether there is "competent medical evidence to the contrary." No medical history records will be requested of claimants in cases where nothing in the claim file suggests that either something other than the line of duty may have caused the fatal heart attack or stroke or that it was more likely than not that the heart attack was imminent. The mere presence of cardiovascular disease or risk factors, however extreme, that is found, for example, through an autopsy or mentioned in a coroner's report or death certificate, shall not be considered in the determination unless information in the claim file itself suggests that the deceased person knew or should have known of such presence and appears to have worsened or aggravated the same by his or her own intentional and reckless behavior. Any medical history records requested of the claimant will be reviewed for mitigating evidence in favor of the claim.
"I am very pleased that it appears that the Department of Justice is starting to get the message," said Philip C. Stittleburg, Chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC). "I strongly encourage anyone whose Hometown Heroes claim has been denied to appeal the decision directly to the Director of the Bureau of Justice Assistance as soon as possible."
PSOB is a one-time payment of nearly $303,064 to the families of fallen public safety officers. The Hometown Heroes Act, which was signed into law in December 2003, was intended to make it possible for public safety officers who die from heart attack or stroke caused by participation in emergency response to qualify for PSOB.
Up until now, DoJ's interpretation of the law has been at odds with the intent of Congress. DoJ has placed the burden of proof that the physical activity the officer engaged in was nonroutine or stressful on the applicant and has denied claims in which firefighters suffered a fatal heart attack during emergency response, with the justification that emergency response does not necessarily constitute "nonroutine stressful or strenuous physical" activity. As of October 4, a total of 202 Hometown Heroes claims are pending, with 21 approved and 57 denied. A total of 26 appeals have been filed.
The NVFC has expressed frustration and concern over delays in processing applications and the low number of awards that have been made, and has worked towards getting the situation rectified. With the new policy in place, DoJ is soliciting appeals and is printing 35,000 packets to guide claimants in filing for the benefit.
NVFC Testifies Before Congress on Reauthorization of the U.S. Fire Administration
On October 2, the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) testified at a hearing held by the House Science and Technology Committees' Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation to discuss reauthorization of the United States Fire Administration (USFA). The NVFC was represented by Deputy Chief Gordon Henderson, a Past President of the Georgia State Firefighters Association, which is a state member of the NVFC.
"USFA plays a critical role in educating and training fire, rescue, and emergency personnel throughout the United States," Henderson told the Subcommittee. "Additionally, USFA collects, analyzes and disseminates data about fires and other emergencies to stakeholders and members of the public."
The NVFC made several specific recommendations for the reauthorization, including adding advanced emergency medical services (EMS), hazardous materials, and wildland fire to the core mission of USFA; updating the National Fire Incident Reporting System so that reports can be filed electronically; and requiring USFA to work with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, which operates the National EMS Information System, to ensure the respective data collection systems are capturing data that is accurate and as useful as possible.
In his testimony, Henderson also discussed some of the specific programs that USFA has to help the volunteer fire service. "The most visible and direct benefit that USFA provides to the volunteer fire service is hosting the Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP) at the National Fire Academy," he said. "VIP combines two weeks' worth of course work into an intensive six-day session. The compressed course schedule is essential for many volunteers who cannot take two weeks off to attend classes and the course topics are geared specifically toward addressing challenges faced in many volunteer agencies."
Henderson also told the Committee about Retention and Recruitment for the Volunteer Emergency Services: Challenges and Solutions, a 237-page guide developed jointly by USFA and the NVFC, which identifies the specific challenges to retaining and recruiting volunteers and offers suggestions and best practices on how to overcome each one. Retention and recruitment are two of the most important issues in the volunteer fire service, which has a population that is both declining and aging. The guide is available for free download at www.nvfc.org.
Ultimately, the NVFC believes that in order to be most effective, USFA must receive the funding that it is authorized by Congress to receive. In FY 2007, Congress appropriated less than $42 million for USFA, despite an authorization of more than $68 million.
"USFA should be reauthorized at a funding level that will allow USFA to maintain existing programs, update and develop new programs, and expand their ability to deliver those programs to the fire and other emergency services," Henderson said.
The full testimony is available on the NVFC web site at www.nvfc.org. The NVFC will continue to work with Congress, the administration and other stakeholder groups to pass legislation reauthorizing USFA.
NVFC Hosts Delegation from Finland
Four representatives from SPEK - The Finnish National Rescue Association and the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities met with the NVFC on October 8. The delegation wanted to learn more about volunteer retention and recruitment challenges and solutions in the United States as well as the Fire Corps program, a federally-funded program administered jointly by the NVFC and the International Association of Fire Chiefs.
The more than five million residents of Finland are protected by a largely volunteer fire and emergency service force of more than 15,000 volunteer or paid-on-call firefighters. An additional 5,000 firefighters are career.
"Retention and recruitment issues in the volunteer fire service are a challenge faced by both the U.S. and Finland," said Heather Schafer, NVFC Executive Director, who met with the delegation along with Sarah Lee, NVFC Deputy Director, Dave Finger, NVFC Director of Government Relations, and Melissa Speed, Director of Fire Corps. "Having this opportunity for our organizations to meet and discuss ways we are addressing these issues benefits both countries."
In addition to the meeting, the NVFC helped the Finnish delegation schedule a ride-along with the District of Columbia Fire/EMS Department, a tour of the National Fire Academy (NFA) in Emmitsburg, MD, a meeting with NFA Superintendent Denis Onieal, and a tour of the Vigilant Hose Company, a fully volunteer department also located in Emmitsburg. The delegation concluded their visit to the U.S. with a trip to New York City.
NFA to Offer Juvenile Firesetting Intervention Specialist Course for Volunteers
The National Fire Academy (NFA) is offering the six-day Juvenile Firesetting Intervention Specialist I & II Leadership course (R-828) through the Volunteer Incentive Program (VIP) from July 20-25, 2008. The class addresses the NFPA 1035 Juvenile Firesetting Intervention Professional Standard, which is part of the Public Fire & Life Safety Educator standard.
The target audience for this VIP class includes members of volunteer or combination departments that have responsibilities related to juvenile firesetting intervention, interviewing, and prevention. It is also for practitioners aligned with these departments who interact with children who are involved in firesetting and/or arson behavior and their families. In addition to the members of the fire service, professionals from a wide range of fields including mental health, law enforcement, education, counseling services, and social services can benefit from the training.
The application period for the NFA Second Semester is November 1 to December 31, 2007. Apply for the Juvenile Firesetting Intervention Specialist I & II Leadership course online at www.usfa.dhs.gov/applications/nfacsd/display.jsp?cc=R828. Learn more about the Volunteer Incentive Program at www.usfa.dhs.gov/nfa/resident/vip/index.shtm. If you have any questions, contact Timothy Patrick O'Dowd at Tim.ODowd@dhs.gov
USSTC Operation Ranger Opens Applications for 2008 Awards
Applications for utility vehicles to assist first responders accepted until Dec. 28
U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company (USSTC) is accepting applications for 2008 Polaris Ranger 6x6 utility vehicles through its Operation Ranger program. Entering its sixth year as USSTC's signature community relations initiative, Operation Ranger assists America's emergency first responders by donating versatile utility vehicles to worthy organizations across the country.
USSTC provided nearly 70 Rangers to fire-rescue, police, emergency medical services, emergency management, and wildlife law enforcement organizations in 2007, and has awarded more than 330 off-road vehicles nationwide since late 2002. In the past year, USSTC-donated vehicles have helped battle wildfires in Georgia and provide tornado relief in Florida and Kansas, among hundreds of other uses.
Applications and supporting materials will be accepted until December 28. Applications can be downloaded at www.ustinc.com/corp_giving/operation.asp. The company hopes to award at least 60 vehicles throughout 2008.
Calendar of Events
Below is a list of events that the NVFC will be attending, as well as nationally recognized dates which the NVFC would like to acknowledge.
NVFC Fall Meeting
Annual Apparatus Specification and Vehicle Maintenance Symposium
NVFC Spring Meeting
Support Those Who Support the Voice of the Volunteer Fire and Emergency Services
The NVFC relies on the assistance of its corporate and association partners to be able to provide a voice for the volunteer fire and emergency services in Washington. We encourage you to look at a list of our Corporate Members and support them with your business.
Join the NVFC and support the voice of the volunteer. Find out more and join online at www.nvfc.org.To be removed from the NVFC E-Update list click here.