The Bill Ricci World Trade Center Rescue, RecoveryÂ and Cleanup Operations ActÂ that givesÂ disability coverage to first responders who were part of the rescue, recovery or cleanup at the World Trade Center site after 9/11, won’t immediately help the firefighter who inspired the measure.Â Â Â
Fire Lt. Bill Ricci, who will retireÂ July 18 from the Clifton Fire Department due to lung disease connected to his time at ground zero, will have to pay for health benefits under COBRA during the “gap” between retirement and when his disability pension is approved.
Prior to the bill signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday, Ricci would have been responsible for all health benefit costsÂ immediately upon retirement.Â
The bill was inspired after Ricci was originally denied all disability coverage because he responded to ground zero as a volunteer and not a paid employee.Â
“I was shocked, angry,” he said. “That can’t be right, can it? Well, it no longer is.”Â
Ricci said he will have to pay $3,300 per month for COBRA health insurance premiums out of pocket. He said he expects he’ll have to pay until the disability hearing, which will be held sometime in August.Â
The 20-year veteran of the fire department said he should eventuallyÂ be reimbursed for the insurance costs, but added he’s worried the City of Clifton may contestÂ his claim.
Bill Ricci (center), poses with members of the Clifton Fire Department after Gov. Murphy (not shown), signed The Bill Ricci World Trade Center Rescue, Recovery, and Cleanup Operations Act in Jersey City. Monday, July 8, 2019Â (Photo: Kevin R. Wexler/NorthJersey.com)
Ricci said he developed lung issues during the last two years and eventually was told by his employer that since he could not longer perform his duties, he could not remain on the job.
“I’ve seen what theÂ city can do,” Ricci said.
Ricci wasÂ first placed on light duty for a year after he was diagnosed, but as per the firefighter’s union contract, firefighters who cannot return to full dutyÂ will be let go.Â
Before the Ricci bill was signed to law on Monday, he and other sickened volunteers would have received their pension based on years of service, but no benefits.
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Ricci was toÂ receive a pension at 59 percent of his $131,000 salary starting Aug. 1.Â
City officials said it’s not up to Clifton when the hearing is held or Ricci’s status, it is up to the State Division of Pensions and Benefits.Â
“The recent legislation that was passed would seem to resolve any issues that any first responder would have in connection with a disability pension application with the state for related illnesses,” City Attorney Matthew Priore said. “We wish firefighterÂ Ricci well and thank him for his service.”
On Wednesday during a phone interview, Ricci said he was more fortunate than other ground zero first responders who have more serious illnesses.
Also a registered nurse, Ricci has been volunteeringÂ at a camp for diabetic childrenÂ in Massachusetts this week.Â
That’s the kind of person Ricci is, said Clifton fire union President John Beard.Â
In a ceremony in Jersey City, across from the site of the attacks,Â MurphyÂ signed two bills into lawÂ on Monday. HeÂ also honored Thomas P. Canzanella, a Hackensack deputy fire chiefÂ who died 12 years ago of cardiac arrest.Â Canzanella served for months at ground zero.Â
TheÂ Thomas P. Canzanella Twenty First Century First Responders Protection ActÂ extends state workers’ compensation protections to first responders.
Murphy, at the signing, noted the “stark contrast between how we treat our 9/11 heroes in New Jersey” and how Congress has responded.Â
Staff writerÂ Dustin Racioppi contributed to this report.Â
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