Youngkin signs bills supporting first responders
Published 7:00 pm Friday, May 5, 2023
Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin came to Suffolk Fire Station No. 6 on Friday, May 5, to deliver remarks and sign five pieces of legislation that will support the state’s first responders, including members of the Virginia fire service.
Youngkin was joined at the event by state and local officials, including representatives of fire departments from around Hampton Roads.
“We’re here today to sign legislation that in fact is going to do what should have been done a long time ago, and that is to protect the health and the well-being of our first responders, our heroes,” Youngkin said. “I believe that at the end of the day, we are here to serve you, and I can think of no better time to sign these critically important bills than today, right here, among our heroes, the day after International Firefighters’ Day, a day to recognize the decision that our brave men and women make every day to step away from their families and the safety of their homes to serve their communities and every day the decisions they make to step into danger to protect our lives and our families, our homes and our communities.”
He emphasized how first responders are vital “to our collective and our individual safety and well-being.”
At the heart of the bills in question, he said, is honoring the dedication and the service and the sacrifice that is manifest in the courage, fortitude and strength of Virginia’s first responders, including those present at Friday’s signing event.
“In my own faith, Scripture reminds us of the words so clearly spoken about this selfless love of one’s neighbor: ‘Love one another as I have loved you,’” he said. “That’s what each of you reflect every day when you go to work and demonstrate your selfless commitment to our communities.”
He noted that the bills he was about to sign “expand vital health coverage services to the most deserving men and women in uniform.”
HOUSE BILL 1408 & SENATE BILL 906
The first piece of legislation that Youngkin signed was patronned by Del. Emily Brewer, and it was House Bill 1408.
“This bill expands the workers’ compensation presumption for our first responders to include bladder and thyroid cancer, expanding protection for our first responders when it is needed the most,” Youngkin said right before signing it.
He then signed the companion bill in the state Senate — Senate Bill 906 — that was patronned by state Sen. Richard L. Saslaw.
During his remarks, Youngkin said these bills build “on the extremely important work that was done by Sen. John Cosgrove in the 2019 legislative session to include colon, brain and testicular cancers to the list of qualified care coverage.”
Brewer also briefly delivered remarks at Friday’s event and wiped away tears as she expressed her gratitude for the aid these bills will provide to first responders.
“Today’s a good day,” she said.
She also thanked Youngkin for being a “public safety governor.”
“We have a governor who’s standing up for public safety,” she said.
HOUSE BILL 1775 & SENATE BILL 904
The third piece of legislation the governor signed was House Bill 1775, which was sponsored by Del. Israel D. O’Quinn.
“This bill ensures that medically diagnosed anxiety and depressive disorders that law enforcement officers and firefighters incur in the line of duty are covered under the Virginia Workers’ Compensation Act,” Youngkin said.
He then signed its companion bill, Senate Bill 904, which was patronned by state Sen. Bill DeSteph.
HOUSE BILL 2451
“On top of ensuring our first responders have access to health support they need, we are prioritizing safety measures involved in the training for evolving fire service practices as well,” Youngkin said.
O’Quinn patronned House Bill 2451, which works to give first responders the tools they need to safely respond to electric car fires.
“This bill directs the Department of Fire Programs to develop an electric vehicle fire and training program for our firefighters in the commonwealth,” Youngkin said. “This legislation will ensure that our men and women of the fire service are given the proper training to respond to these fires quickly and safely.”
During his remarks, Youngkin noted that as e-vehicles become more prevalent in Virginia, fires do as well.
“See, they burn hotter and they burn longer than contemporary combustion engines,” he said. “Electric car fires pose a unique danger to our communities, and it is critical that our firefighters have the tools they need to get the job done and return home safely.”
INSIGHT INTO THE LIVES OF PUBLIC SAFETY WORKERS
O’Quinn delivered remarks during Friday’s signing event, and he shared witness testimony provided to legislators during the process of developing public safety-related legislation.
He said a police chief explained to a committee of legislators that the average human has about two truly traumatic events in their lifetime.
“And the average public safety worker has about 180, and they’re not standalone instances — they’re cumulative,” O’Quinn said.
He noted that another witness cited statistics showing firefighters and police officers are twice as likely to die of suicide as they are to die in the line of duty.
“These are dangerous jobs that we’re talking about,” he said.
Lastly, he recalled the testimony of a former state trooper who described coming up on a bus crash with people strewn all over the road.
“He talked about how he couldn’t go to sleep for months without seeing that, and it just really impacted him in a bad, bad way,” O’Quinn said. “And so today is about doing what’s right for all who do so much for all of us.”
Youngkin said he wanted to take a moment to pause in remembrance of those that gave their lives in service as first responders.
He then recognized those who are currently serving in first responder roles.
“To all of you that are here that serve as the front line, the first ones to run to danger, and to all of your families, I simply want to say thank you,” he said. “Thank you for loving. Thank you for your servant’s hearts. Thank you for the tremendous work you do to make Virginia the best place to live and work and to raise a family. You’re the fabric of our communities. May God bless you and keep you safe and watch over your families each and every day. It is an honor to sign these bills.”