KMSP - Though they take the same risks as career firefighters, most of the state’s roughly 20,000 firefighters are either part-time or volunteer. In order to help the families of these part time or volunteer firefighters, a new law will allow the families of none full-time firefighters to receive benefits in the event of a fatality while on the job. Currently families do no receive health benefits if a family member dies on the job.
Robert Flakney is one of 92 part time Eden Prairie firefighters and responds to calls alongside the nine full timers at the department. But that's where the similarities end.
“We make $11 an hour here,” Flakney said.
Flakney is married. If he dies on the job, current Minnesota law says his wife would not get any health insurance.
“It just wasn't on the radar until somebody did some digging into it,” Flakney said of the proposed law. “Once people became aware of it, it almost seemed like an injustice.”
An injustice because all the full time fire fighters receive this benefit. So for the past year, the State Fire Chief's Association spent time at the capitol lobbying lawmakers to change that.
State senator Vicki Jensen and representative Tom Hackbarth sponsored the bill that takes effect immediately in the new year, extending this benefit to the spouse and children of any fire fighter killed in the line of duty.
“Little bit of push back we did receive was from the townships and from some of the smaller cities thought it would be very expensive to cover this,” said Rep. Hackbarth.
“The amount of money volunteers save our communities by putting their life on the line is invaluable. We couldn't exchange that for anything so this is just a small benefit,” said Sen. Jensen.
For those currently working fighting fires, the new law will help give them piece of mind.
“It's important knowing if I don't come back, then she'll be taken care of,” said Flakney
Of the roughly 20 thousand fire fighters in the state of Minnesota more than 90% are considered volunteer or paid on call. Just in the past four years, Randy Hiti, Matthew Frantz, and Chip Imker all died on the job as volunteers.
“I think we already do our job the best that we can do,” Flakney said. “I think it just gives us more reassurance.”
Lawmakers say if this health insurance benefit is ever requested, it will be paid by the city and township's property taxes, or general fund.