Cinnaminson firefighter Chris Hunter died in November from a heart ailment.
And because he did not die in the line of duty, the state dropped his wife and two young children from his health insurance plan, so the family had to sign up for a more expensive COBRA plan.
Had Hunter died in the line of duty, the wife would have been covered for health insurance until she remarried, and the children would have been covered up to age 26.
In response, Burlington County Assemblymen Troy Singleton and Herb Conaway Jr. introduced legislation Dec. 18 to extend health benefits for six months to the family of deceased first responders.
“The way the proposal works is that whenever a municipality enters into a contract with an insurance company to provide health care benefits to public safety employees, it would be required to negotiate a benefit that provides the post-death coverage to the surviving spouse and dependents of a public safety employee who had an active duty death,” Singleton said.
An active duty death is one that takes place within 24 hours of a shift and is not in the line of duty.
“Six months was chosen as a means to strike a balance between supporting the families of first responders in a time of need and being mindful of any potential financial impact to the municipality or fire district,” Singleton added.
Those who put their lives on the line deserve this support, he added.
“I think this is a fitting gesture to honor their service, by assisting their families in this manner.”
The Democrats’ legislation would extend coverage until the state pension board decides how much pension the family is entitled to, said Dan Norman, president of the Burlington County Professional Firefighters Association.
“When a person passes, it’s not right that on the first of the month they lose insurance whether the death was in the line of duty or not,” Norman explained.
“Most of us go to work and never worry about whether we’ll return home safely,” Singleton remarked.
“For family members of first responders, this is a persistent fear every day. This is the least we can do. Whether Lt. Hunter’s death was a direct result of his official duties is immaterial given the constant sacrifices he has made throughout his career.”