First responders from New Jersey who volunteered at Ground Zero in Manhattan during the 9/11 terrorist attacks are now eligible for accidental disability pension coverage – a long-denied benefit – under a bill Gov. Phil Murphy signed Monday.
Assembly Bill 4882 extends public worker retirement benefits, including disability, to first responders who contracted illnesses as a result of volunteering at Ground Zero, even if they were not on the clock.
Lawmakers named the measure after Clifton firefighter Bill Rucci who – while not scheduled to work on September 11 – volunteered at the World Trade Center site, but was not eligible for benefits. Rucci contracted a respiratory illnesses following the 2001 attacks which forced his early retirement from firefighting.
Thousands of first responders from New Jersey, New York and nationwide rushed to the site of the World Trade Center in the hours, days and weeks following the terrorist attacks. Many of them were exposed to toxic fumes and other hazardous substances, which Murphy said “have taken a toll on the health of too many of these heroes.”
The second measure – Senate Bill 716 – is named after the late Thomas Canzanella, a Hackensack firefighter who spent several weeks at Ground Zero and ultimately passed away from a heart attack at the age of 50.
Prior to S716’s enactment, the state’s first responders had the burden of proof to show that their job led to their illness, but the measure shifts that burden to the employer to create a rebuttal to the claim.
Former-Gov. Chris Christie vetoed a similar measure in 2016.
“We remember their sacrifice, we honor their services and today we act to help them when we need it the most,” Murphy said at the bill-signing ceremony at the old Central Railroad of New Jersey terminal in Jersey City, where roughly 100 police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders were in attendance.
“Our first responders… didn’t think of themselves, they thought of others. They didn’t get asked to go. They just went,” Murphy added.
Both measures take effect immediately.