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Our Volunteers Are Protecting Us … Who’s Protecting Them?

To the Editor:

Our town is blessed with five volunteer fire departments, as well as a volunteer ambulance and a volunteer dive team.  Some of you may not realize that these volunteers are on call 24/7 . When you need them, they are there at the scene of an accident, at your home, responding to fires, medical emergencies and water rescues, among other scenarios.  At a time when you are most likely in the most vulnerable, stressed and emotional state, they are calmly and efficiently at your side.

These men and women are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, and even grandparents.   They feel what you feel, and they face many dangers to help you when you need it most.  They not only see what you are seeing at that time, but multiply the effects of that by every event they respond to.  

There is no difference between the work of a volunteer and a paid position ,except the latter gets paid and well taken care of by the city they are working for. The State of Connecticut mandates that all firefighters stay current with their certifications and attend training sessions to update their essential skills and procedures, to help you.  When a paid firefighter is injured, his/her medical insurance and Worker’s Comp coverages are in full force immediately.   Firefighting is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, obviously, but we must also consider the mental and physical toll when being jolted from a sound sleep by the piercing tone of the fire call, and literally jumping from bed to run to your aid. It is an emergency situation they are responding to (false alarm or not) and the physical and mental reactions are the same.

Heart attacks — not burns or smoke — have long been known to be the most frequent cause of firefighter injuries and deaths on the job. (Harvard study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine).  It may surprise you to learn that many times our volunteers are left on their own to deal with endless, senseless red tape concerning Workers’ Comp claims while attempting to heal from their injuries.  They are forced to risk losing their homes and financial well-being when they certainly deserve and need our town to help them.

Recently a 30+ year volunteer firefighter suffered a heart attack during a training session.  He was taken from the training facility by ambulance to the hospital and admitted.  It has been nine weeks, and his Workers’ Comp claim has still not been “approved” …he has essentially been all but discarded, and left to fend for himself while still unable to work. It is shameful that our town and the insurance company that your tax dollars pay for, does not have the backs of these brave men and women, and it is wrong that our volunteer firefighters should be faced with this added insult to their injury.

What can we as a community do about this??

Cindy Ciaccia

33 Swamp Road, Newtown                                   June 24, 2014

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