DEP officers rally for injury benefits

April 20, 2009 5:16:18 PM PDT
Officers for the New York City Department of Environment Protection rallied at City Hall Monday demanding the same benefits as other first responders. When DEP officers are hurt on the job protecting New York City's water supply, they don't get long-term benefits given to NYPD officers and firefighters.

Tired of the powerful politicians ignoring them, guardians of the city's water supply are calling them out, blaming them for not being there when, in the line of duty, they get hurt.

After crashing his cruiser responding to a call, New York Department of Environmental Protection Officer Ed Klan took months to recover from his injuries. Since the city doesn't provide DEP police with line-of-duty injury benefits, Sergeant Klan had to take out a home equity loan to get by.

In February, DEP Police Officer Eric Hoffman suffered severe injuries while chasing trespassers as he guarded one of the city's reservoirs. He has months of rehab ahead of him. His sick pay and medical benefits will likely run out.

Monday outside City Hall, DEP officers continued to press the mayor and City Council to provide a financial safety net to protect them while they protect the city's water.

"It's real gut-wrenching when a police officer, especially someone you know, get hurt and not get covered," DEP Officer John Franconuccia said.

It's been nearly a year since an Eyewitness News investigation prompted a City Councilman to introduce a bill that would provide line-of-duty injury benefits to DEP Police.

"They have police officer responsibilities, especially in the day and age of terrorism, and the benefits that they get are comparable to elevator operators," Councilman Peter Vallone said.

But in more than a year, not one hearing has been held, not a single vote taken on the bill. DEP officers blame the one politician who holds most of the power in council - Speaker Christine Quinn.

"It's been sitting in Christine Quinn's office for a year and a half, and I say that because no bills get passed unless Christine Quinn goes through a committee," DEP police union president Kenneth Wynder said.

The 160 DEP officers just want to know that the city has their back. Many of them already live on the financial edge.

"My salary last year with overtime, about 300 hours, just under $36,000," DEP Officer John Lombardo said.

Quinn's office says they are considering the bill and they plan to schedule a hearing at the appropriate time.