EMTs added to bill improving pensions for ill 9/11 volunteers
TRENTON — Emergency medical technicians have been added to a bill working its way through the Legislature providing bigger pensions to first responders whose careers were cut short by illnesses that resulted from their time volunteering at the World Trade Center site after the 2001 terrorist attack.
Rob Nixon, director for government affairs for the New Jersey State PBA, said 9/11 is not history for police officers, firefighters and EMTs who continue to develop illnesses related to their efforts at the World Trade Center nearly 18 years ago.
“It wasn’t a volunteer responsibility. It was their obligation to go to the pile to help try to rescue and recover what they could because that’s what we train our police and firefighters to do,” Nixon said.
First responders who were being paid for their time immediately after 9/11 have been eligible for accidental disability pensions, but some who volunteered on their own time were not eligible. An accidental disability pension pays a person two-thirds of their former salary.
“This bill would relax that a little bit for these folks that have traveled to Ground Zero and served over there. But they would have to meet the criteria of being monitored and have come down with a disease that was directly related to Ground Zero,” said Ed Donnelly, president of the New Jersey State Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association
State Sen. Sam Thompson, R-Middlesex, said that perhaps that should be the standard for all volunteer responses, not just for the World Trade Center.
“Maybe we should look at just changing that whole law because any firefighter or policeman that comes forward in a time of emergency to help out, if something happens to them, they should qualify,” Thompson said.
The bill is named for Clifton firefighter Bill Ricci, who has come down with a respiratory disease but isn’t eligible for an accidental disability pension because he wasn’t formally on duty while volunteering at the World Trade Center site.
“I’m a happily married man. I have four children. I have two mortgages on my home. I ask you not to punish my family for my work at Ground Zero. I worked my last day for Clifton, and I need this bill to pass as soon as possible,” Ricci said.
The amendments that added EMTs enrolled in the Public Employees Retirement System to the bill means it requires another approval by the Assembly after it is approved by the Senate. That can’t happen until after the Senate budget committee also signs off.
The bill would apply retroactively, so Ricci and 9/11 responders who are already retired would have a chance to get their pensions recalculated whenever it becomes law.