Obama Signs Bill Extending PSOB, SAFER, Fire Grants

A bill to extend PSOB funds to certain EMS providers and re-authorizing the USFA and fire grants was signed by President Obama.

It was part of the National Defense Authorization Act.

In late December, the House and Senate gave the final nod to the legislation following years of work on the issues.

In addition to extending PSOB, the bill also re-authorizes the USFA and the FIRE Act grants through 2017.

The legislation also says rescue personnel who suffer vascular rupture within 24 hours of an emergency response should be eligible for PSOB benefits. Heart attacks are already covered in the Hometown Heroes Act.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., started three years ago to close the gap in PSOB coverage.

 He first introduced the Dale Long Emergency Medical Service Providers Protection Act in June 2009, naming the bill in honor of the Bennington EMT who was tragically killed in an ambulance crash.

Leahy had added his bill to the Senate's version of the annual defense authorization bill. Because it was not also in the House version, he convinced conferees to keep it in the final bill.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, which Leahy chairs, had approved the bill in 2010, but further action on the legislation had stalled due to a single Republican senator's objection, according to a statement.

The PSOB program was launched more than three decades ago to provide assistance to the surviving families of police, firefighters and medics who died or became disabled in the line of duty.

The measure also includes provisions to lessen the length of a currently unwieldy appeals process for claimants, clarify the list of eligible survivor beneficiaries, and make those who have been catastrophically injured eligible for peer support and counseling programs.

"From Bennington, Vt., to Newtown, Conn., first responders are flesh-and-blood lifelines to all of us. When tragedy strikes, they lay their lives on the line with a sense of duty, with skill and with selflessness. All first responders should be treated as professionals, whether paid, volunteer, municipal or private nonprofits. We count on them, and they need to be able to count on us. This is their law," Leahy said in a statement.