Are first responder COVID-19 deaths considered LODDs?

PSOB releases statement underscoring need to prove on-the-job exposure


This article has been adapted from a post on Billy Goldfeder and Gordon Graham’s FirefighterCloseCalls.com, home of The Secret List.

On Tuesday, March 31, City of Passaic (New Jersey) Firefighter Israel "Nudge" Tolentino, 33, died of COVID-19 complications.

A firefighter since December 2018, Tolentino was originally hired for the department as a full-time EMT and continued to serve some shifts in that role as well as volunteer for the community emergency response team. Tolentino is survived by his wife, Maria, a daughter, 9, and a son, 7.

The PSOB Office has offered guidelines about how to prove COVID-19 on-the-job exposure. (Photo/PSOB)
The PSOB Office has offered guidelines about how to prove COVID-19 on-the-job exposure. (Photo/PSOB)

How to classify first responder COVID-19 deaths

There have been several first responder deaths as a result of COVID-19 in the past few weeks – and there will be more.

But are these deaths considered line-of-duty deaths (LODDs)? That’s the question that’s on everyone’s mind these days.

I spoke with National Fallen Firefighter Foundation (NFFF) Executive Director Chief Ron Siarnicki, as the NFFF has been working to ensure we get the facts. The Foundation had a meeting recently with the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) representatives at the Department of Justice, and were successful in getting the answers.

The short answer is YES – but you MUST have documentation on every run, not just every EMS run. Departments must use "blanket exposure reports" regardless of the run. Every single run.

A great way to track your exposures is to use the International Public Safety Data Institute’s Exposure Tracker app, along with any and all documentation required by your department, association or union. Leave no stone unturned related to your needed documentation!

PSOB details LODDs

Following is the DOJ PSOB statement on COVID-19 LODDs, downloadable here: Administered by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), the Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) Program provides death benefits to the eligible survivors of public safety officers who are fatally injured in the line of duty, disability benefits to public safety officers catastrophically injured in the line of duty, and education benefits to the eligible spouses and children of fallen and catastrophically injured officers. BJA's PSOB Office is honored to review the more than 1,000 claims submitted each year on behalf of America's fallen and injured public safety heroes and their loved ones.

With the recent outbreak of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, America's law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other first responders face a new health risk as they continue to selflessly serve their communities.

Under the current PSOB Act and its implementing regulations, conditions caused by infectious diseases, viruses, and bacteria may be found to be an injury sustained in the line of duty.

To establish eligibility for a public safety officer's death or disability due to COVID-19, the PSOB Act and regulations require that the evidence show that it is more likely than not that the virus resulted from the public safety officer's exposure while performing a line of duty activity or action. While some states have laws that presume a public safety officer's infectious disease resulted from their employment, eliminating the need for evidence of when the transmission of a disease or infection occurred, the PSOB Program has no such presumption. (The PSOB Program does cover certain conditions resulting from September 11th exposure, as coverage is based on the laws and regulations establishing the World Trade Center Health Program and its scientific and medical analysis.)

As the PSOB Office receives claims based on COVID-19 exposure, it will work closely with survivors, officers, and agencies to seek evidence of the exposure and causation through all available evidence, including incident reports and related documents.

For questions regarding the PSOB Program or filing a claim, please do not hesitate to visit PSOB's online portal at www.psob.gov, or email the PSOB Director at hope.d.janke@usdoj.gov

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