The tragic death of two Boston firefighters last week in a Back Bay blaze reminded Massachusetts residents of the debt they owe to firefighters, police officers and other first responders who are called upon to put their lives on the line in the course of duty. Their deaths have also prompted legislators to address an overdue increase in benefits paid to their survivors should the worst happen.
The House Wednesday voted unanimously to raise the death benefit for the families of public safety personnel killed in the line of duty from $100,000 to $150,000, the first increase in the benefit in 20 years. The Senate was expected to follow suit, sending the legislation to the desk of Gov. Deval Patrick.
Boston Fire Lieutenant Edward J. Walsh, 43, a married father of three, and Firefighter Michael R. Kennedy, 33, a former Marine, were buried Wednesday and Thursday and honored by first responders from across the state. Investigators are still pursuing the cause of a fire that erupted with unexpected ferocity on an extremely windy day, trapping the two firefighters in the basement of the apartment building. The tax-free benefit will apply to the families of both men.
"Every day, firefighters across the state risk their lives to keep us safe," said Representative Edward F. Coppinger, a West Roxbury Democrat who sponsored the House measure. "Today we have an opportunity to show them we will take care of their families when they make the ultimate sacrifice." The bill was advocated by the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts, a statewide union that pointed out the benefit, if it had kept pace with inflation, would be worth $160,000 today.
Boston Mayor Martin Walsh observed that while no amount of money could begin to replace either man, the increase in the benefit would demonstrate the commonwealth’s commitment to support the families of fallen first responders. That commitment is one that lawmakers, and the people they represent, take seriously.