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Conference Report on H.R. 4348, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. HOLT. Madam Speaker, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 4018, the Public Safety Officers' Benefits Improvements Act, of which I am a cosponsor, and I thank my colleague from across the Delaware River, Mr. Fitzpatrick, for his work on this extremely important issue.

During the early morning hours of August 28, 2011, as Central New Jersey was bearing the brunt of Tropical Storm Irene, the Princeton First Aid and Rescue Squad was called to investigate a vehicle submerged in raging floodwaters with the occupants possibly trapped inside. Michael Kenwood, a 39-year-old volunteer emergency medical and rescue technician, entered the water tied to his partner in an attempt to reach the stranded vehicle. The two quickly realized that the current was too strong and tried to turn back, but Michael lost his footing and was sucked into the current. When he was pulled from the water, Michael was unconscious and not breathing. Michael died later that day, leaving behind a wife, Beth, and 3-year-old daughter, Laney. The submerged car turned out to be empty.

Michael's death was a tragedy. But what compounded this tragic situation was the fact that, under current law, Michael's family was not eligible for federal death benefits because he was a volunteer member of a non-profit organization. This is just wrong. Michael's sacrifice would be no different if he had been a member of a paid fire department or EMS agency, and federal law should treat it as such. When he was called to enter those floodwaters, Michael did not stop to think, ``I don't get paid for this should I do this?'' He answered the call just like thousands upon thousands of others do each and every day, risking their lives in the service of others, regardless of whether or not they are paid.

This legislation would expand federal benefit programs for the women and men who volunteer for fire departments and rescue squads and are injured or killed in the line of duty. Quite simply, it is the right thing to do. I am glad to see this bill being brought to the floor and I urge my colleagues to support it here today.

Last Saturday, Michael's name was added to the National EMS Memorial in Colorado Springs, Colorado. I would ask that my colleagues join me in remembering Michael's sacrifice, and those made by the other police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical responders who put their lives on the line each and every day to protect ours.

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