14 February, 1989 (~estimated)
Firefighters wage battle for improved insurance plan
By Wendy Plump
Princeton’s ,firefighters have bitter proof of the insurance coverage they claim is inadequate. His name is Peter Nini.
About three years ago, as the. Princeton Fire Department ,battled a gasoline :leak and subsequent explosion and fire on the D&R Canal, Mr. Nini suffered a severe heart-attack.
He has yet to receive any Worker’s Compensation funds because he must prove in court that the attack was triggered by the fire call.
The borough’s supplemental policy. in turn. has provided Mr. Nini with “only minimal coverage.” said Mark Freda, chief of the Fire Department.
Reached at his home Sunday evening. Mr. Nini could not provide details of his.situation because he was having trouble breathing. He was totally disabled by the cardiac arrest. His voice sounded weka and old and tired over the phone. He spoke only a few sentences.
“Believe what they (firefighters) tell you,” he said. “The coverage of the borough and township combined wouldn’t fill a thimble. It’s a shame.
“I contributed 25 years to the Fire Department,” Mr. Nini added, “and never thought I’d have to pay for it like this.”
Using this example as damning backup, several firemen showed up at a Borough Council meeting Thursday to press for increased coverage.
“It’s very hard to ask a young man to come in and jeopardize his home and his family to be a volunteer if they don’t get enough coverage” And this isn’t enough,” said Norm Servis, head of Engine Co. No. 1, one of the three companies within the Princeton Fire Department.
Officials told the men they would review the borough’s policy and discuss the matter with the Mercer County Municipal Joint Insurance Fund at a meeting next week. The borough is a member of the municipal insurance pool, and gets its worker’s compensation, general liability and excess liability insurance through the pool at reduced rates.
“Granted this current policy doesn’t cover all the bases,” said Mark Gordon, borough administrator, Thursday. “The pool is meeting again on March 7. I’ll bring up the issue to see if other municipalities have other coverages and if we can purchase that.”
In the interim since Mr. Nini’s heart attack, the borough has expanded its supplemental policy in an attempt to prevent his plight from repeating itself among the ranks of volunteer firefighters here.
The policy, provided through the Chubb Group,augments worker’s compensation, which generally pays for medical bills and some increment of the victim’s salary during the disability period. Worker’s. compensation coverage is required by state mandate.
The borough, policy, jointly funded by the borough and township but administered by the borough, includes a $25,000 life insurance or dismemberment payment; a $5,000 pay-ment in the event of lingering dis-ability 180 days after an accident; and a weekly indemnity of $250 for five years, Mr. Gordon explained.
“The previous policy was reviewed and this one replaced it. The gm department recommended using this one because it is slightly better,” he said.
For example, if a firefighter dies in the line of duty, $25,000 would be awarded to his or her survivors in one sum, according to the policy. If one “member,” such as a hand, foot or eye, is lost, the firefighter would receive one-half,of the principal sum, or $12,500. If two more members are lost, the full principal sum of $25,000 would be paid all at once.
This coverage extends to within one year of a disabling accident. If the firefighter continues to suffer total disability 180 days idler the accident, the policy will pay I percent of a total $5,000 each month until that allotment runs out or until the disability is reversed.
Finally, a weekly indemnity of $250 for total disability is avallab16′ from within 30 days of the accident to a maximum of 260 weeks (five years).
Up to $5,000 in medical expenses. is also available within one year of an accident, but only after worker’s compensation funds have been exhausted.
The policy covers all registered members of Fire Department who arc under the age of 70.
Asked if this coverage is adequate, Mr. Freda said, “None of these guys do this for a living and should have some form of insurance from their primary job anyway. But that’s one of the things we have to look into – is that a correct assumption?”
He added that, under the current policy, Mr. Nini would have fared much better. “He would have gotten something,” Mr. Freda said. “I don’t know what he’s living on now.”