Line of Duty Death Benefit Increased (PA 101-28)

No one needs to tell firefighters and law enforcement officers that protecting the public can be a dangerous occupation. Sometimes, unfortunately, first responders face injury, and sometimes even death, in performing their duties. If a firefighter dies in the line of duty, one unfortunate side effect of this death is the financial hit that the family takes to pay the attendant burial expenses.

Effective January 1, 2020, the Illinois “Line of Duty Compensation Act”, 820 ILCS 315/3.5, has been amended, to increase the amount of burial benefit payable to the surviving spouse or estate of a firefighter who is killed in the line of duty after June 30, 2018, from a maximum of $10,000.00 to a maximum of $20,000.00. Other death benefits will also be payable.

Bad Fire – Who Investigates? (PA 101-82)

So, there’s a bad fire in your fire protection district … perhaps there’s not only significant property damage, but maybe even an unfortunate injury or death. When there’s a bad fire – or even a small fire – whose job is it to investigate the “cause and origin” of that fire?

If you’re the fire chief, the short answer is that “it’s your job!” PA 101-82 amends the “Fire Investigation Act” at 425 ILCS 25 to make it clear that both the Office of the State Fire Marshal (OSFM) and “local authority” (that is, you, the fire chief, or the “senior fire officer” if your department doesn’t use the term “fire chief”) share “concurrent” responsibility in seeing that the necessary investigation is done.

There’s changes both big and small in the revision to the “Fire Investigation Act” made by Public Act 101-82. And some things aren’t changed at all. For example, in the “not changed at all” category, the law continues to require you, the fire chief to “… investigate the cause, origin, and circumstances of every fire occurring …” in your district, and reminds you that you “… shall especially make investigation as to whether such fire was the result of carelessness or design …”. And, as before, the OSFM has “… the right to supervise and direct such investigation whenever it deems it expedient or necessary …”.

As stated above, there’s changes both big and small in this revision to the “Fire Investigation Act”. In the “small” category, for example, where the old law referred frequently to the “Office of the State Fire Marshal”, throughout the newly-revised Act, that’s been shorted in most places to read just “Office”. But make no mistake, this is still a reference to the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

In the “big” category, a couple of changes are noteworthy. For example, the new language includes the specific authority to the OSFM to adopt reasonable “fire prevention and life safety” rules. This broader language to include “life safety” rules and standards, and to conducting “fire prevention and life safety inspections” is contained in different places throughout the revised Act.

But what good is an inspection and an emphasis on prevention if there’s no way to mandate correction of possible violations? An associated change to the emphasis on prevention is contained in new language in the Act that provides that, “… if no corrective action is taken … to remove or remedy the dangerous condition or fire hazard within a reasonable time … an order shall be served upon the [person responsible] directing that the dangerous condition be removed or remedied immediately …”.

These changes are effective January 1, 2020.

Got “Weed”? (PA 101-27)

Got “weed” (marijuana)? Well, as a result of the “Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act” (410 ILCS 705) beginning January 1, 2020, millions of Illinoisans will — legally. This new law will create challenges for fire departments in several different areas. A thorough review of the Act (which is beyond the scope of this brief article) will likely be required by all fire departments across the state before the implementation date.

What would that in-depth review of the “Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act” disclose? Well, here’s some highlights:

1. Recreational use of cannabis will be permitted for those 21 years of age or older, subject to certain licensing requirements and regulations about where and how cannabis can be distributed. So, during their off-duty hours, fire department personnel will be legally free to possess and use the drug. So, also, will others in the State. As a result, when responding to a call for assistance, our personnel will need to remember that those in need of services may be impacted by use of the drug prior to the call for assistance. Personnel may need to alter certain procedures to address this fact.

2. The new law specifically provides that firefighters on duty may not use cannabis. Fire departments will still be able to adopt reasonable “zero tolerance” and drug-free workplace policies. According to 410 ILCS 705/10-50, “Nothing in [the] Act shall prohibit an employer from adopting reasonable zero tolerance or drug free workplace policies, or employment policies concerning drug testing, smoking, consumption, storage, or use of cannabis in the workplace or while on call provided that the policy is applied in a nondiscriminatory manner…”. However, it is suggested that any such policies currently in place will need to be reviewed, and perhaps revised, to conform to the requirements of the new law.

3. What happens if a firefighter appears for work, and appears at that point to be impaired as a result of prior cannabis use? The new Act gives some guidance on this issue at 410 ILCS 705/10-50 (d):

(d) An employer may consider an employee to be impaired or under the influence of cannabis if the employer has a good faith belief that an employee manifests specific, articulable symptoms while working that decrease or lessen the employee’s performance of the duties or tasks of the employee’s job position, including symptoms of the employee’s speech, physical dexterity, agility, coordination, demeanor, irrational or unusual behavior, or negligence or carelessness in operating equipment or machinery; disregard for the safety of the employee or others, or involvement in any accident that results in serious damage to equipment or property;… or carelessness that results in any injury to the employee or others. If an employer elects to discipline an employee on the basis that the employee is under the influence or impaired by cannabis, the employer must afford the employee a reasonable opportunity to contest the basis of the determination.

4. In line with personnel’s ability to use cannabis during off-duty times, the “Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act (820 ILCS 55/5) has been amended to prohibit fire departments from discriminating against a firefighter for using cannabis off-premises and during non-working and non-call hours.

5. Nothing in the new law “… shall be construed to interfere with any federal, State, or local restrictions on employment … or impact … [a fire department’s] ability to comply with federal or State law or cause it to lose a federal or State contract or funding…”. 410 ILCS 705/10-50(g).

Keep the Bad Guys Out (PA 101-548)

Security in our schools has become an increasingly important concern in recent years, as a result of various “active shooter” incidents within our schools. In an effort to add increased protection for children and staff, the Illinois “School Code” has been amended, effective August 23, 2019, with the addition of Section 5/10-20.69. (105 ILCS 5/10-20.69). This new provision addresses one way in which access to our schools can be limited. As used in the Act, a “door security locking means” is a device “… intended for use by a trained school district employee in a school building for the purpose of preventing ingress through a door of the building…”.

Installation of such a device, however, requires compliance with various parts of the new law. A “… school district may install a door security locking means on a door of a school building to prevent unwanted entry through the door …” only if certain requirements set out in the statute are met. In some circumstances, if only some of these stated requirements are met, these devices can be installed if, among other conditions, ” … prior to its installation, local law enforcement officials, the local fire department, and the school board agree, in writing, to the installation and use of the door security locking mean …”.

In addition to the requirements described above: ” … Local law enforcement officials and the local fire department must be notified of the location of any door security locking means and how to disengage it. Any specific tool needed to disengage the door security locking means from the outside of the room must, upon request, be made available to local law enforcement officials and the local fire department…”.