• Firefighters blame local lawmaker for stalling bill that could provide live-saving benefits

    By: Mark Barber

    Updated:

    RALEIGH, N.C. - Thousands of firefighters in our area put their lives on the line to protect us every day, but now those firefighters say their own well-being is on the line.

    Firefighters said a bill that could give them life-saving benefits is being blocked by a local senator in Raleigh.

    You might think firefighters get the same benefits as other people who work dangerous jobs, like police officers, when in fact they don't.

    When they retire, they're treated just like any other city employee.

    "We work the same calls with our brothers in law enforcement. The only difference is we have no gun to defend ourselves," said Joshua Smith, the spokesman for the Professional Firefighters of North Carolina.

    He and 150 firefighters stood shoulder to shoulder in Raleigh on Wednesday to ask lawmakers to give them the same benefits as police.

    "We are as deep in the opioid crisis as they are, we're fighting the fires in western North Carolina, we're helping with the floods in east North Carolina," said Smith. 

    Smith said House Bill 340 would give firefighters the supplements they need to pay their health insurance when they retire.

    "Right now we have 55 and 60-year-olds running into burning buildings, and we need these guys to be able to retire and have health insurance," Smith explained.

    Smith said the bill that would give those benefits to firefighters is stuck.

    Andy Wells, a senator from Catawba County, controls one of the committees it may have to pass through. He told Channel 9 he doesn't plan on approving it because analysts estimate it will cost cities across the state $300 million.

    "Local governments are saying absolutely not until we have a funding mechanism involved," said Sen. Andy Wells, (R) District 42.

    If House Bill 340 passes, cities would have to pay for their firefighters’ retirement benefits. Smith said those benefits will pay for themselves because departments can replace aging firefighters who have high salaries, injury rates and insurance rates with younger firefighters.

     

    Firefighters said there is a lot on the line but time is running out. If they can't get the bill approved by Friday, it will be dead.

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