First responders new caucus pushes for COVID death benefits and hazard pay
JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Many on the front lines in law enforcement, firefighting and emergency response are leaving because of stress, pay and lack of benefits, especially during the pandemic. Now the state’s first responders have a stronger voice at the State Capitol to improve conditions.
Law officers, firefighters and EMT’s were joined by state lawmakers Thursday to introduce a new caucus, a body to better serve first responders during the legislative process.
“We’ve had countless first responders that contracted COVID and ultimately lost their lives,” said MS Firefighters Association president Chief John Pope.
The Collins Fire Chief said 11 firefighters in the state have died from COVID. He represents 13,500 volunteer firefighters and 3,400 career firefighters. The state does not provide benefits for deaths among first responders from COVID.
“They’ve provided those services and unfortunately they lost their life due to contracting COVID while serving and now their families are left behind to pick up the pieces. So having that support getting that legislation passed is gonna be huge,” added Pope.
That support will come from the newly formed Mississippi First Responders Caucus. It is comprised of law enforcement officers, firefighters, EMTs and lawmakers from across the state.
The organization is designed for first responders to have a concentrated voice at the Capitol for better collaboration with lawmakers as items affecting them go through the legislative process. Among the bills are COVID death benefits for first responders and COVID hazard pay.
Julia Clarke, President of the MS Ambulance Alliance, was among the dozens attending the introductory news conference at the Capitol.
“In the State of Mississippi, 80 percent of the counties are covered by private ambulance companies which do not qualify for the death benefits, and so the EMS people that were lost in the state would not qualify,” said Clarke.
“We’re about pushing first responders issues whether they be a pay raise, safety or whatever,” said House Chair Rep. Bubba Carpenter (R).
Brandon Police Chief William Thompson is President of the MS Association of Chiefs of Police representing over 300 municipal police agencies in the state.
“With this caucus, I will have access to a representative north Mississippi and south Mississippi... and bring more people to fight to benefit us all,” said Thompson.
Senator Brice Wiggins (R) is the Senate Chair of the caucus.
“So that we can elevate. One, provide them with a voice that they need that, honestly, has not always been here at the Capitol and two just to put into place policies that will benefit our first responders,” said Wiggins.
The House passed the COVID death benefits bill unanimously.
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