(The Center Square) – A new proposal in Pennsylvania recognizes the role coroners play as first responders.
This week, the House Labor and Industry Committee unanimously approved a measure that extends to them the same death benefits received by officers, EMTs, and firefighters killed in the line of duty.
Volunteer firefighter and prime sponsor of the bill, Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Montoursville, said he’s seen “coroners and deputy coroners out on the front lines with us.”
Coroners attend fatal car accidents with other first responders, where further “near misses” with other distracted drivers occur regularly.
“Their lives are just as much in danger as ours,” Hamm said.
The bill offers a one-time payment to families when a coroner dies in the line of duty, followed by monthly payments to surviving spouses and children. Initially set at $100,000, the benefit is adjusted annually according to inflation and is currently $156,000.
Consensus abounds about the inherent risk coroners face performing their duties. Rep. Ryan Mackenzie, R-Macungie, said it was “the least we could do.”
However, when it comes to improving conditions for coroners, critics say there’s much more work to be done.
A study by the Center for Rural Pennsylvania last year found critical gaps across the state. Training and standardization across the field is piecemeal, and many offices don’t have the tools required to adequately perform the work expected of them.
Coroners are elected officials who are not required to have a medical background within the state of Pennsylvania. While they are ultimately responsible for certifying deaths and ordering investigations in suspicious circumstances, they don’t receive specialized training to do so.
County coroner offices rely on the autopsies and information provided by doctors, labs, medical examiners, and other professionals, but it isn’t uncommon for these resources to be thin or altogether unavailable – especially in rural parts of the state.
With the opioid epidemic significantly increasing the burden placed upon coroners, experts advocate for measures like increased funding, standardized training, and career incentivization for coroners and deputy coroners to bring them toward parity with other first responders.