TAMPA (FOX 13) - Dozens of firefighters, police officers and other first responders packed into the Tampa Firefighter Museum on Tuesday as Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law supporting them.
“If we expect people to take care of us, we should be doing the same thing for them,” the governor said.
The law eliminates the mandate that a physical injury is needed for Florida’s first responders to get workman’s compensation. Now it will include mental health issues.
Megan Vila spearheaded the effort after losing her brother to suicide last September. She says he struggled with PTSD from his 30-year career with the Tampa Fire Department.
“It’s been the most horrific thing that our family has had to endure," Vila said. "My brother was an amazing person. And his motto, while working was to treat every victim, as if they were your relative. And he took that home as well.”
Vila says the memories of responding to calls overwhelmed him.
“Babies dying in his arms, a father abusing his 6-month-old baby by throwing it against the wall, and my brother tried to resuscitate it and bring it back to life, but he was unsuccessful," she said. "That’s stress. You know, going into a burning building and having a victim there and the families are outside screaming, and the victim dies. That’s stress. They can never un-see that. These things don’t go away; you take them home to your families."
Florida’s CFO and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis said, up until today, there was not a solution for people suffering like Steve.
“Now, four states, including the state of Texas, have decided to make a move to embrace our first responder community when it comes to mental health benefits.”
Governor Scott says Vila's mission is accomplished and has the potential to save countless lives.
“It shows you that one person can change the world," he said. "She’s somebody that unfortunately had a horrible experience because she lost her brother. But she made something positive out of it for everybody else.”
The bill will become effective October 1. It’ll give first responders a one-year window to file a claim, and they have to meet one of the 11 conditions to be provided with medical and paid leave. Conditions include seeing a dead child, witnessing a homicide, or attempting to save the life of a child who dies before arrival at a hospital.