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State COVID-19 relief package makes workers' comp harder to get for first responders

First responders like EMTs, police officers, and firefighters run into dangerous situations every day during this pandemic. Still, a clause in the state's COVID-19 relief package makes it harder for them to file for workers' compensation if they get sick while on the job.

The relief package, adopted by Gov. Tony Evers last week, stipulates that if first responders contract COVID-19 on the job, they have to prove what call they got it to access the benefits, something the heads of their unions say is an unreasonable requirement.

Marc Cohen, the executive director of the Wisconsin EMT association, and Mahlon Mitchell, the head of the Professional Fire Fighters of Wisconsin, are pushing lawmakers and state leaders to change the infant law.

"These are front line folks just like doctors and nurses and healthcare workers across the state and firefighters, and law enforcement and EMS shouldn't be subjected to extraordinary measures," Cohen said.

"We can be responding to a broken leg, for instance, and that person could be asymptomatic of COVID-19, and of course they're not gonna be testing them," Mitchell said. "Or bystanders or family members at these calls we go on could be COVID and be asymptomatic or have I'll be in the early stages of and they may not know."

Mitchell said workers' compensation is a vital line of defense for his members and their families if they get hurt or get sick on the job.

"Firefighters don't fight fires are police officers don't become police officers to get rich," Mitchell said. "And that's the only thing we have a fall back on if we do get hurt. We can't perform our duties and our job."

For EMTs, Cohen said several of his members are volunteers serving tight-knit communities with a higher population of older adults.

"In small communities, the person that you're going to take care of or save you know help is probably a friend or neighbor or relative small companies, they know each other," Cohen said.

After signing the COVID-19 relief package last week, Evers called it a good start but said more needs to be done. He said this week he hopes this is one of the items the legislature takes up as they continue to work on plans aimed at helping communities through this pandemic.

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