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Easier aid for police, firemen with cardiac problems
Updated On: Jul 01, 2008

Easier aid for police, firemen with cardiac problems

By JARED NEWMAN
Norwalk Hour Staff Writer
Published:  June 10, 2008

A new law will make it easier for police officers, firefighters and constables to get compensation if they have a cardiac emergency on the job.  Previously, the law required officers or firefighters to prove that their heart problems were job-related to qualify for workers' compensation. A bill signed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Monday switches the burden of proof to the municipalities. Entitlement to the benefits is automatic unless a preponderance of evidence proves otherwise.  William Curwen, president of Norwalk's police union, said the bill was "a long time coming."  As a union official in the 1980s, he fought to keep workers' compensation for police who suffered cardiac problems when municipalities wanted to remove it. Top brass in the police and fire departments were abusing heart and hypertension claims, he said, and the unions struck a compromise that required employees to prove their eligibility.  Making that argument was sometimes difficult, Curwen said, so he welcomed the new law.  "Our jobs are very stressful," he said. "We work under the most harshest conditions at some times, and it was something of a common sense nature to provide this kind of benefit to the officer."  The bill is estimated to have a significant financial impact on towns and cities in coming years, according to a report by the nonpartisan state Office of Fiscal Analysis. Just one cardiac claim could cost a municipality $500,000 to $1 million, the study says.  An earlier version of the bill extended workers' compensation eligibility to police and firefighters who contract hepatitis, meningitis or tuberculosis. The state House of Representatives nixed that proposal, calming claims that the bill is just another unfunded mandate from the legislature.  "There's probably still some of (those claims), but police officers and firefighters do an amazing job, and we expect an awful lot out of them," said state Sen. Bob Duff, D-25, "and there are certainly stresses that many of us will never know and understand, so when they speak and ask for something we need to listen."  Mayor Richard A. Moccia did not return calls seeking comment.  William F. Brennan, first selectman of Wilton, a strong critic of unfunded mandates, said he hadn't seen the bill yet, but believed the house amendment made the bill more favorable.  "I know firefighters and police officers come under high stress, and certainly I have no problem if the incident that occurred was directly related to the job," he said.  Fire chief Denis McCarthy noted that the Norwalk Fire Department offers annual physicals and fitness programs to keep firefighters healthy, but appreciated the legislative action.  "This bill recognizes that the hazards of the job may be life threatening to some members (of the department)," he said, "and it's certainly the protection they deserve."

 




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