Hometown Heroes Act of 2003

Congress passed the Hometown Heroes act in 2003. Basically, the act says that if a public safety officer (police, fire, paramedic) dies as the “direct and proximate result of a heart attack or stroke” while on duty or within 24 hours of having been on duty that death COULD be treated as a line of duty death. The act sets forth the circumstances that will be used to determine if it would qualify. The officer has to have “engaged in a situation, and such engagement involved non-routine stressful or strenuous physical law enforcement, fire suppression, rescue, hazardous material response, emergency medical services, or other emergency response activity, or participated in a training exercise which involved non-routine stressful or strenuous physical activity”.

The main reason I wanted to bring this to people’s attention is the part about something happening within 24 hours of being on duty. If one of us has a heart attack and dies while on duty, I don’t think there will be much question as to whether it’s a line of duty death. However, it’s not hard to imagine it happening while we are off duty and no one looking into it being line of duty related. The implications are potentially huge if the death is treated as “line of duty”. The current pay out from the Federal government for a line of duty death is $295,194.00 (tax free). In addition, the state of WI also has some benefits that kick in for line of duty deaths. The largest one is that tuition and fees for surviving children and spouses are waived at any of the 16 campuses that are part of the University of Wisconsin system (and also at state-supported vocational/technical schools that are part of the Technical College system). To be eligible for the waiver, children have to have been under the age of 21 (or in utero) at the time of death. The waiver is for up to 5 consecutive years for the Univ. of WI schools and for up to 3 consecutive years at the technical schools. For a full listing of Federal and state benefits you can go to the “Concerns of police survivors” website and look in the “reference material-benefits” section.

Given all of the above information, what I would propose we do is try to make some minimal documentation when we engage in activities that could be viewed as “non-routine stressful or strenuous physical activity”. I’m sure we’ve all helped a citizen push a car off the road, helped pick someone up (assist fire, detox conveyance etc), or done some other activity which got your heart rate up, where we wouldn’t normally do a report. One easy way would be to just draw a case number, no report it, and add a few lines in the comments such as “assist citizen, helped them push a car off the road approx 50 feet, plate number xxx111”. At least that way if you did suffer a fatal heart attack off duty someone could pull up your activity on the mdt and see something we could pursue. This isn’t meant to suggest you “blow your own horn” or write yourself up for a commendation. It’s just something minor we could do that potentially could prevent your family losing out on a lot of money and benefits that they were entitled to. Obviously any claim under this act would still have to be reviewed by someone in the federal government and if it didn’t fit the guidelines it would be rejected. Given that, it doesn’t hurt to have the documentation there and make the claim if it seems to fit. When you consider what it could cost your family by not taking that extra few minutes to add a call note, it’s not a big deal.