‘It will change lives’: Firefighters lobby for PTSD bill, paramedics hope to be included

Bill covers police, firefighters but not EMS workers

MADISON, Wis. – More than 100 Wisconsin firefighters and emergency responders lobbied for a bill Wednesday that they say will save lives.

The bill would remove barriers for public safety officers to get worker’s compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Because of a 1974 Supreme Court decision, to get worker’s compensation, public safety officers must demonstrate a PTSD diagnosis based on extraordinary stress above what is usually experienced by others on the job. With a job where stress is normal, that’s a hard standard to meet.

“I had to tell (a) firefighter, you’re going to get push back,” attorney Dan Schoshinksi said to firefighters gathered at Cooper’s Tavern prior to their meetings with legislators at the Capitol. “The employer or the insurance company, they’re going to conclude this is just part of your job, so it’s not extraordinary stress, sorry.”

Devon Anders, a paramedic with Deer-Grove EMS, said he loves his job.

“It’s nice to be able to help,” Anders said.

With everything emergency responders see on the job, sometimes the helpers need help, too.

“You see horrendous, horrible things that no other human, no one should have to see,” Anders said. “There’s nothing we can do to avoid that, because somebody has to go help.”

He’s dealt with bouts of PTSD, and he’s not alone.

“Stuff started really affecting me when I had children, and we’d treat children or see them severely injured or worse,” Anders said. “I myself have gone through PTSD situations. I know people at my job have done the same thing.”

For firefighters, police and EMS workers such as Anders, getting help for PTSD is another burden. That’s why he said lobbying for this bill is so important.

“If we can make it so people are able to come back to the job instead of being forced out or worse, having such mental anguish that they’re contemplating taking their own lives, this is essential legislation,” he said, adding that while he supports the bill, there’s one more hurdle.

“I won’t be covered,” he said. “My coworkers and 71 other people in Dane County alone that work full time as paramedics won’t be covered.”

As the bill stands, police and firefighters are covered, but not full time EMS workers — something Anders hopes to change after the current bill is passed.

“It will change lives,” he said. “”This affects every single one of us.”

Senator Andre Jacque expects the bill, with bipartisan support, to be on the senate floor next week.