'That's what you call bipartisanship': How Mass. line of duty death benefit got doubled

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BOSTON — Before Gov. Charlie Baker signed a spending bill Tuesday, he recounted how a provision doubling the one-time line of duty death benefit for first responders came to be attached to the bill.

Surrounded by police and fire officials, Baker said he floated the idea last Monday to House Speaker Robert DeLeo. They spoke before Baker addressed a crowd of around 300 firefighters and 100 lawmakers gathered in Dorchester after the on-duty death of Watertown firefighter Joseph Toscano, Baker said.

"And as I got up to speak, I looked around the room and I said to the speaker, 'Do you think there's a quorum here?' And he said, yes, he thought there was a quorum here. And I said, well, then I think it's about time we increase the line of duty death benefit from $150,000 to $300,000, what do you think? And the speaker said, 'Done.'"

"And here we are, eight days later, and you were true to your word, Mr. Speaker. Because it's about to be done."

"That's what you call bipartisanship," said DeLeo.

DeLeo also recalled last Monday's event, a reception for legislators hosted by the Professional Fire Fighters of Massachusetts.

"We were there some two days before the burial of Joe Toscano, and I could feel in that room on Florian Hall the terrible feeling of loss," DeLeo said. "Most of those people, most of those firefighters, didn't know Joe Toscano. But I can tell you, they felt, I could see it in their eyes how they felt that they lost one of their own."

And the Winthrop Democrat remembered Toscano. "One of the interesting stories I talked about Joe was the fact that he was the cook at the Watertown Fire Department," DeLeo said. "And on the day of his passing, while in the process of fighting the fire, one of his colleagues had said to him, 'Oh, it's Saint Patrick's Day, you gonna cook corned beef and cabbage?' And he said, 'No way would I ever cook corned beef and cabbage. We're having shrimp over linguine.' And as I said to the firefighters that day, that's my type of guy. There's what you call an intelligent person in terms of that."

Saying "this seemed like the right time," Baker's voice faltered as he cited Toscano's death, the March 26 anniversary of the deaths of Boston firefighters Edward Walsh and Michael Kennedy in 2014, and the "very recent memory" of the deaths of Trooper Thomas Clardy and Auburn police officer Ronald Tarentino.

Firefighters will "have some measure of comfort knowing that the financial burden on their family will be eased by this action," said State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey.

Section 9 of the supplemental budget raises the one-time death benefit for first responders killed in the line of duty from $150,000 to $300,000. The budget bill signed by Baker allocates $144 million in total spending.

"I would just like to add my thanks to the folks in the Legislature for incorporating this into the supp, and just say that the -- the daily life of those of us in public service comes for the most part with all kinds of surprises, but most of them are manageable. And I've said this before, the first responder community, the public safety community, the surprises they end up dealing with sometimes get significantly beyond what we deal with," Baker said.

The line of duty death benefit was raised from $100,000 to $150,000 in 2014 after Walsh and Kennedy died while battling a fire in Boston.

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