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Bill offers help with workers' comp for first responders

SALT LAKE CITY — First responders would get easier access to workers' compensation for ailments related to mental stress under a bill advanced by a House committee Tuesday.

Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Murray, the sponsor of HB209, spoke about the “extraordinary amount of stress that (first responders) deal with each day” that can cause mental health disorders such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

First responders have access to workers' compensation, but it's difficult to prove that PTSD stems from work specifically, making it difficult for them to get the treatment they need, Kwan told the House Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee.

Jack Tidrow, an active-duty firefighter in Salt Lake City and president of Professional Fire Fighters of Utah, spoke specifically about the condition of firefighters' mental health. Tidrow said 20 percent of career firefighters are diagnosed with PTSD, and of those, 19 percent have a plan to commit suicide and 15 percent of them will try to take their own life.

Salt Lake Police Chief Mike Brown said the only guarantees in his line of work is that he will have traumatic experiences, and have a physical and emotional response to it.

"Look, anything that we can do, preventative, we will do, but the longer a person deals with a post-traumatic stress incident, the longer it is going to take for them to heal," Brown said.

The committee voted 9-1 to advance the bill to the House floor for further discussion.