Proposed state bill to help firefighters battling PTSD

The James ‘Dustin’ Samples Act will provide firefighters with treatments if diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Firefighter safety bill advances out of Indiana House committee
Firefighter safety bill advances out of Indiana House committee(WNDU)
Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 6:07 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2023 at 6:08 PM CST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The entire state Senate and majority of the House signed on as co-sponsors for the James ‘Dustin’ Samples Act. This act would provide access to treatments if you are diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from on the job experiences. It is a bipartisan bill, which means it has full support of both Republicans and Democrats.

The bill is to honor of James ‘Dustin’ Samples, a firefighter who took his own life life in 2020, after years of battling PTSD. He was not able to afford therapy for his diagnosis that he got from years working as a firefighter. Lawmakers hoped the bill changes the stigma around mental health and PTSD and fund the support needed for the firefighters who are struggling.

According to State Sen. Paul Bailey, district 15, the bill would only cover full-time, paid employees of the fire department of a municipality, county, municipal form of government, or other political subdivision of the state. Whose duties require the employee to actively engage in fire suppression, rescue services, or other emergency response tasks. The employee needs to be actively engaged in fire rescue services.

This is tricky, considering 75% of fire departments in the state of Tennessee are volunteer. Currently, fire service in Tennessee is not considered an essential service as it is in most states. Bailey said he hoped to get the volunteers included in the funding soon.

“Well at the present time were focusing on the full-time firefighters and those that dedicate their lives everyday, our volunteers are certainly important, and we will be looking at extending that coverage to volunteer firefighters,” said Bailey.

Bailey noted this bill is not just important for firefighters, but for the families as well.

“Since this legislation has been filed my office has received many emails from spouses relative to their spouses their husband that’s a firefighter and the trauma that the family has experienced because of what the firefighter has witnessed on the job,” said Bailey.

Chief John Linsenbigler for Seymour Volunteer Fire Department, is supportive of the bill. He said he hopes the bill will trickle down to volunteer firefighters considering his stations are 100% volunteer only. He pointed out the difference in a full-time and a volunteer firefighter.

“They’re willing to give up their personal time, personal family time, use personal fuel, use their personal money to help that person and that’s kind of the difference there that they want to be that good Samaritan and help somebody that they have no idea who they are,” said Linsenbigler.

The funding for treatments for full-time firefighters would be covered by workers’ compensation just like it would any other injury a person received on the job. Bailey said he is confident the bill will pass.