First responders & COVID, state leaders pushing for additional workers’ compensation

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GREENVILLE COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – A push to get more firefighters and other frontline workers protected when they’re out of work due to COVID. That’s what leaders with South Carolina’s Professional Firefighters’ Association are doing now, as they mourn the loss of some of their own to the virus.

Strap on the protective gown, sanitize after every call and leave no trace of germs inside the fire trucks.

“IPads, radios will be sprayed. We basically move from the passenger side to the back,” said Lt. Tim Ratkowiak with the Boiling Springs Fire District.

That’s just part of what has turned into a routine when they get a COVID-related call within the Boiling Springs Fire District, which is a lot. In fact, the chief there told 7 News, since the start of the year, a third of all their calls have had to do with COVID.

“We have seen more than our fair share of COVID-related calls here in the last couple of weeks,” said Engineer/EMT with the Boiling Springs Fire District, Jerry Pera.

But luckily, firefighters and EMT’s there like Jerry Pera have stayed healthy. He told us, if they do carry home COVID from one of those calls, they have support.

“HIV, what have you, it falls under the same precedent with our carrier. It’s treated just like a workers comp case, covers everything for us and all we have to do is follow the protocol,” Pera explained.

But state fire department leaders say, proving where and how you contracted the virus, can be a lengthy and disappointing process at other departments in the state.

“You have to prove that you were exposed at work. Well, if you’re constantly making people work extra hours and be there all the time, at some point, you need to presume they’ve been exposed at work since they are treating these people,” William Pesature, Vice President of the SC Professional Firefighters’ Association told 7 News.

William Pesature helps lead the state’s professional firefighters’ association. He doesn’t believe all that proof is needed because he said, it’s denying some of his team members from getting the compensation they deserve. He told us, it should be presumed for all frontline workers.

“A lot of the departments are taking care of their people, making sure they are covered even if it’s through federal dollars. But some places aren’t doing that, they’re telling them go on your vacation time, go on your sick time,” Pesature said.

But legally, upstate attorney’s warn this is a hard battle to fight. Adding, that proof is needed.

“It’s an airborne virus. There’s no ability to prove causation because how do you prove you got an airborne illness at that specific time and location,” said Upstate Attorney, John Reckenbeil.

William Pesature said a bill for this was introduced last year but tabled because of COVID. He’s hoping lawmakers will look back into this bill soon.

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