CFH Trust Featured by the Special Districts Association of Colorado



CFH Trust Featured by the Special Districts Association of Colorado

The Special Districts Association of Colorado (SDA) published an article about the Trust in the May issue of SDA News. The text of that article appears below, or you can view the article on their website.

Heart and Circulatory Benefits Trust Provides Cardiac Coverage for Colorado Firefighters

Firefighters are any fire district’s or fire department’s greatest asset. Fire operations managers invest a tremendous amount of time, money and effort ensuring that their firefighters receive training to prepare for countless emergency situations. Despite all this training, firefighters still face many challenges when it comes to their health and well-being.

While most people assume firefighters’ biggest line-of-duty threats come from fires and collapsing buildings, a Harvard study has shown that heart disease is actually the number one killer of on-duty firefighters. The study concluded that this increased risk is intrinsically linked to the firefighters’ emergency response duties.

When a firefighter suffers a major cardiac event, it often leads to disabling conditions that make returning to work difficult given the physical demands of the job. To address this, the Colorado General Assembly passed Senate Bill 14-172 last year, which requires that fire agencies provide firefighters with coverage for heart or circulatory malfunctions. The bill, which was signed into law by Governor Hickenlooper, also appropriated some funds to help fire agencies provide this coverage to their employees.

In response to this new mandate, the Colorado Firefighter Heart and Circulatory Benefits Trust (CFH Trust) was created as a way for fire agencies to provide this important coverage, easing the human and financial burdens created by cardiac incidents. It was designed with input from the Colorado Professional Fire Fighters, Colorado State Fire Chiefs, the State Division of Insurance, as well as individuals from 15 municipal special districts and fire authorities. The CFH Trust is currently comprised of 85 fire entities and covers more than 3,000 of the state’s firefighters.

The benefits provided by the CFH Trust work in conjunction with existing employer-provided health insurance, disability, and workers’ compensation coverage. Just because a firefighter is off work due to a cardiac event, doesn’t mean their household bills have stopped coming. This benefit helps firefighters cope with the financial cost of a cardiac event when coverage from disability or other sources are not yet available.

The Trust’s next goal is to develop a comprehensive screening process to evaluate the heart health of all firefighters throughout Colorado. “Our goal is to set up a program that helps firefighters manage their own heart health. This will inform them of potential issues, and improve not just their odds of avoiding contracting a serious heart condition, but their overall quality of life as well,” said Joe DePaepe, Trust Administrator.

DePaepe says that every firefighter who responds to an emergency is critical to the safety and success of the operation. This is especially true in rural areas, where fire services often rely on a very limited number of volunteers. If time and attention is diverted from an emergency because a firefighter has been disabled due to a preventable medical condition, everyone’s safety is compromised.

“A proactive heart health program would additionally improve safety for firefighters and the community by reducing the likelihood that a firefighter may suffer an incident in a crucial moment,” said DePaepe.

Tiffany Lipsey, the Assistant Director of the Human Performance Clinical/Research Laboratory at CSU, is working on developing a portable basic heart assessment and lifestyle wellness program that can be delivered anywhere in the State of Colorado. The program is being made possible with grant funding, in part from the CFH Trust.

“For groups or departments with at least 24 employees, our aim is to deliver these tests for just $100 or less per participating firefighter,” said Lipsey. “Smaller agencies and departments in more rural areas are encouraged to band together with other departments to reach the minimum headcount.”

The CFH Trust is also building a Loss Prevention strategy that will support rural and metropolitan fire departments alike. The Trust is currently examining the feasibility of establishing a heart health assessment grant program in 2015 and 2016. Funding for the program would come from Trust contributions and be allocated per firefighter currently enrolled in the Trust. This funding could be used by departments to put their highest risk firefighters through the CSU Heart Disease Prevention Program or a similar program of their choice.

“Very few rural districts and departments are able to comply with the National Fire Protection Association’s standards for heart health. We’d like to change that. We believe that meeting these standards is the most effective way to reduce line-of-duty heart incidents,” said DePaepe.
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