Georgia Governor Nathan Deal visited Fire House 1 in Gilmer County Thursday to officially sign House Bill 146 known as the “Firefigher’s Cancer Insurance Bill.”
Joined by several officials including Georgia House Speaker David Ralston and Senator Steve Gooch, author of the bill Micah Gravley, District 67 Representative, opened the ceremony by speaking about the two year effort to bring the bill to this point. Gravley related his interactions with two firefighters, Frank Martinez and Brian Scutter, who he said were the honor of the Bill as they fought for and spoke with legislators to get the bill passed, as well as the appropriateness to have the signing in Scutter’s home station in Gilmer County. Scutter was also mentioned by Speaker Ralston who said he had made a promise to Brian that he would give all that was in him to bring this day about. Turning to face Scutter, Ralston said, “I kept my promise.”
Governor Nathan Deal, who originally vetoed last year’s Bill 216 called the new House Bill 146 an “innovative and great solution to the situation.” Deal said the Bill provides relief for firefighters by providing a different method for compensation and money for treatment and care for firefighters who contract cancers during their work. Gravley thanked the Governor for his support of, as he called it, a “better bill.”
The sentiment was echoed by Speaker Ralston who said, “We have arrived at a better solution. By requiring a local government to provide insurance to our firefighters for certain types of cancer, the firefighter can skip the process of litigating a worker’s comp claim. This will allow the firefighter to focus on getting better and recovery rather than having to worry about legal bills and depositions and hearings.”
FYN caught up with Speaker Ralston and Governor Deal to ask them to elaborate on why the bill is better, comparative to last years Bill 216. The Speaker replied saying, “This uses a Health Insurance Model as opposed to a Workman’s Comp model which means instead of having to make a claim and perhaps go through a court type process to get benefits and income, Firefighters in this case will file a claim just like health insurance.”
Governor Deal also spoke on the insurance versus workman’s comp comparison saying it was an awkward and “adversarial way of deciding whether or not compensation is owed.” Deal went on to say the newer Bill is a much better solution “to provide insurance coverage that will define benefits and give some flexibility as to deciding the compensation that will be given to firefighters.”
More than Senators and Congressman came to see Deal sign the Bill, though. Several representatives from neighboring and local emergency services attended the event including Gilmer’s own Director of Public Safety Tony Pritchett who said the Bill “gives you a sense of protection… You can lay your head down and sleep better at night knowing that if you contract cancer because of the job, there’s some protection that will take care of you and your family.”
For more on the Signing of House Bill 146 watch the full ceremony below or find more Photos in our Album:
Shortly after the incident involving a wreck of a Tour Bus and a Semi-Truck on Highway 515 in Gilmer County, Tony Pritchett, Director of Public Safety for Gilmer County, held a conference to answer questions.
Director Pritchett stated a call came in to Gilmer County 911 at 11:02 for response to the accident.
When FYN arrived on the scene, several helicopters were still circling the area including both news choppers and Life-Flight services. The accident is suspected at this time by authorities to have occurred while a tour bus was traveling north on Highway 515 collided with a Semi-Truck who was crossing into or across the highway from Whitestone Road.
Minutes after the call came in, emergency response was on the scene to provide care and Gilmer County also responded with its Mass Casualties Trailer to aid in on-scene triage. Pritchett confirmed one fatality in the wreck belonging to the driver of the Tour bus. While four people remained uninjured, another 43 have sustained injuries requiring one to be Life-Flighted and others transported via ambulance to local hospitals including Fannin Regional Hospital, Northside Cherokee Hospital, and Piedmont Mountainside Hospital according to Pritchett.
FYN has been informed that the tour bus was carrying a majority of elderly passengers and had sustained extensive damage collapsing the front end. However, the quick response units were able to arrive and get on the bus quickly to begin caring for those on board.
More aid was quickly brought to the scene as well due to several mutual aid agreements in place with surrounding areas. In fact, authorities from Gilmer Fire and Rescue and EMS as well as Gilmer County Sheriff’s Department, Georgia State Patrol, Fannin County EMS Resources, Pickens County EMS Resources, Dawson County EMS Resources, and Murray County EMS Resources were all confirmed to be on-scene aiding with the incident. Pritchett went on to say he was “very thankful for the response of those surrounding jurisdictions, they were very helpful.”
While the limited sight distance at the location was referenced as a possible factor with the incident, no official statement was given with regards to cause or circumstance involved in the incident as the investigation is ongoing. Director Pritchett did confirm with FYN that he could recall at least one other incident involving a fatality occurring at the same location earlier this year. Witnesses have also been confirmed on scene and are speaking with officials at this time.
Currently, 515 will remain shutdown as a continuing investigation will be undertaken by the Georgia State Patrol and authorities are redirecting traffic around the accident. One traffic officer FYN talked with suggested those heading North on 515 to detour down Highway 136 to Old 5 to bypass it.
For more information on the accident and the Press Conference watch the video below and stay connected with Fetch Your News as more information becomes available.