Working as a first responder can be very rewarding. Sadly, it can also be traumatic. First responders see many accidents and crime scenes that are hard to overcome or forget. Every day, these individuals go willingly into the line of fire, into raging wildfires or put themselves at risk to save others.
For many years, first responders have struggled to get workers’ compensation benefits for the mental impact of their jobs. Now, a new California law could change that. The California Governor’s office announced last week that Gov. Gavin Newsom had signed Senate Bill 542. The new bill creates a rebuttable presumption that a first responder’s struggle with mental health is an occupational injury. As such, first responders could qualify for workers’ compensation benefits like paid time off or mental health care.
In addition to SB 542, Gov. Newsom also signed two other laws into effect that will also support first responders. One establishes clear standards for peer support, and the other prohibits outsourcing of dispatch services to for-profit organizations.
These new laws are supported by advocates and a network of firefighter, police and mental health unions in California. SB 542 was co-sponsored by California Professional Firefighters and the California Association of Highway Patrolmen. The new laws follow research that shows suicides among first responders now outnumber on-duty deaths.
In 2017, suicides accounted for 103 firefighter deaths and 140 police officer deaths. These numbers prove that mental health services are a vital part of healthcare for first responders.