“Our mission is to honor the service and sacrifice of public safety heroes who give their lives in the line of duty – by caring for the loved ones they leave behind.”
The provisions detailed below serve as Supporting Heroes’ guidelines for classifying a death as ‘line-of-duty’ for purposes of our benefits and services. However, they do not constitute an exclusive set of qualifying circumstances nor are they incumbent on any other entity. Supporting Heroes will consider the particulars of every death on a case-by-case basis. When in doubt, we strongly encourage concerned parties to contact us directly to discuss specific circumstances.
NOTE: Although the criteria set forth herein are foundationally based on those of the federal government, they stand on their own and are separate and distinct from the line-of-duty death criteria used by other entities or programs – including the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program (PSOB) of the U.S. Department of Justice, state and local governments, state and local memorials, and those of any public safety agency. Supporting Heroes will determine at its sole discretion as to whether a death qualifies pursuant to these criteria.
Line-of-Duty Death Defined
Supporting Heroes defines line-of-duty death (LODD) as when “an individual’s life is cut short as a direct result of his/her service.” Synonymous with ‘ultimate’ or ‘supreme sacrifice,’ it is something more than dying on duty or in uniform from a cause unrelated to duty. More specifically, in order for a death to be considered ‘line-of-duty’ by Supporting Heroes, a cause and effect relationship must be determined to exist between an individual’s public safety service and the injury or illness that led to his/her death.
Covered Public Safety Workers
Based on risks inherent in duties and status, Supporting Heroes provides support to public safety workers who serve in the following categories: sworn law enforcement (including those serving federal agencies when injuries occur within our service area); fire/rescue service (individuals who engage in fire suppression, rescue and/or hazardous materials response – public and private); EMS providers and deliverers (public and private); sworn corrections (public and private); officially recognized public safety chaplains when engaged in a response to a public safety emergency; and service-delivery members (not logistical or administrative support) of specialized task forces such as FEMA coordinated Urban Search and Rescue Teams (USAR) and Disaster Medical Assistance Teams (DMAT). Individuals attending formal government-based law enforcement or fire service training academy are also covered if attending as a member of and on behalf of a public safety agency. Individuals who work in public safety in non-sworn clerical, administrative, or support roles are not covered except potentially in very rare circumstances pursuant to STATUS provisions.
Direct and Proximate Result of an Injury Sustained in the Line-of-Duty
For a death to qualify as ‘line of duty’ for Supporting Heroes’ purposes, it must be a direct and proximate result of an injury (including illness, heart attack, stroke, etc.) sustained in the line of duty. For an injury to be sustained in the line of duty, it must be sustained in the course of:
- Performance of line-of-duty activity or a line-of-duty action;
- During qualified duty-specific commuting (see COMMUTING provisions below); or
- Convincing evidence demonstrates that the injured party’s status as a public safety worker was a substantial contributing factor or that the injury occurred in retaliation for line-of-duty action. (See STATUS provisions below.)
It should be noted that an individual dying on duty or in uniform of a cause unrelated to his/her duty does not constitute a line-of-duty death. Similarly, a death that occurs while a member is driving a department-issued vehicle off-duty or while engaged in activity unrelated to departmental business even while on duty also does not typically constitute a LODD.
The following subsections provide additional clarification and set parameters pertinent to specific causes or circumstances of injury that could qualify as LODD pursuant to these guidelines. Again, these specific provisions and examples do not constitute an exclusive set of circumstances recognized as LODD by Supporting Heroes. When in doubt, we strongly encourage concerned parties to contact us as every instance will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Heart Attack, Stroke, and Vascular Rupture
A heart attack, stroke, or vascular rupture is considered a line-of-duty injury if it occurs as a result of duty. However, since it is difficult to identify a specific catalyst for such an injury with certainty – especially since such injuries often do not manifest themselves until hours after the precipitating duty, Supporting Heroes follows guidelines for presumption established for Public Safety Officers’ Benefits purposes pursuant to the provisions of the Hometown Heroes Act and Dale Long Act.
Generally, such an injury is presumed to have occurred in the line of duty if:
- The injury occurred (or symptoms significantly manifested) within 24 hours of non-routine physically stressful or strenuous line-of-duty activity; and
- Such presumption is not overcome by competent medical evidence that establishes that the heart attack, stroke, or vascular rupture was unrelated to the engagement or participation in line-of-duty activity or action or was directly and proximately caused by something other than the mere presence of cardiovascular-disease risk factors.
NOTE: Activities of a clerical or non-manual nature do not qualify. Also, death does not need to occur within 24 hours of the qualifying duty. If the injury (or significant manifestation of symptoms) occurs within that period and death occurs as a direct and proximate result thereof, regardless of timing, such presumption would apply. Again, while it is typically difficult to connect such an injury (heart attack, stroke, or vascular rupture) directly to duty with medical certainty, these guidelines constitute presumptive provisions that ‘reasonably’ connect duty to injury pursuant to the findings of multiple studies.
Physical Fitness Training
Injuries suffered during ‘physical fitness training’ or while ‘working out’ during duty or non-duty hours do not qualify as line-of-duty except potentially in the following circumstances:
- Such activity is part of a formal training exercise such as a component of in-service training.
- Such activity is incumbent on the individual or a workgroup the individual belongs to pursuant to official agency policy and participation is tracked and monitored by the agency. Additionally, if occurring outside regular duty hours, the individual must receive some sort of formal consideration for participation – such as release from duty for a specific period, incentive pay, etc.
The reasoning for these provisions is to distinguish activity that is elective or recreational in nature from official duties required or expected by the agency. An assertion that one ‘has to be in shape to do this job’ is not enough to make this distinction.
A public safety worker’s commute to/from a duty assignment for a regular shift is not unique to public safety duty and is therefore not considered an extension of duty – even if traveling in a vehicle provided by the agency. A commute is considered duty-related, however, even in a personal vehicle if traveling to/from any mandatory extra-duty activity such as being ‘called in’ pursuant to an emergency or traveling between one worksite and another when required to do so in the course of duty. Travel to/from training and court appearances could also be considered as such if they are duty-related, mandatory, and occur outside the scope of one’s normal duties. Commuting to/from an overtime or ‘extra’ shift would not qualify.
The return leg of a qualified commute (as outlined above) will also be considered an extension of duty as long as the individual is returning home, to the location from which the commute began, or to another location which would make the individual ‘whole’ – meaning that the return leg of the commute would be ‘qualified’ if it was determined that he/she was traveling to the location he/she would have been at that time had it not been for the call to duty.
Notwithstanding the above, the return segment of a qualifying commute will no longer be considered an extension of duty if the individual engages in a ‘frolic’ or ‘detour.’ In other words, if the individual deviates from his/her normal course to a location as described above – such as stopping for a non-duty related activity or his/her path indicates travel to another location, it will no longer be considered an extension of duty.
An injury will be deemed to have been sustained in the line of duty if convincing evidence demonstrates that: a) the injured party’s status as a public safety worker (current or former) or as a member of a public safety agency was a substantial contributing factor in the injury, or b) it occurred in retaliation for a line-of-duty activity or action (real or imagined) of that public safety worker or another.
SPECIAL PROVISION: Individuals working for public safety agencies in positions not normally covered by Supporting Heroes could be covered in rare instances if compelling evidence demonstrates that the injury that resulted in death occurred as a result of the individual’s association with the public safety agency or by being mistakenly identified as a member of a covered group because of his/her association with the agency.
Initiation of Activity Off-Duty
If a public safety worker initiates action within the scope of his/her training, qualification, and authority/jurisdiction while off duty and suffers an injury as a result thereof, such injury could be deemed to have occurred in the line of duty.
NOTE: Agency policies and practices will have a bearing on determination in such instances.
Supporting Heroes recognizes cancer as occurring in the line of duty pursuant to documentation of a direct cause-effect relationship between duty and the injury/illness. We acknowledge the difficulties of documenting such a relationship and are working toward the establishment of provisions for recognizing cancer presumptively. As a temporary measure, Supporting Heroes will recognize a death as occurring in the line of duty from cancer pursuant to the presumptive provisions of each individual state in which we serve. However, since we do not yet have mechanisms in place for medical assessment, recognition pursuant to this temporary provision can only occur after line-of-duty death benefits have been approved by the respective state. We may, however, provide limited support at our discretion in special circumstances while waiting for an official determination.
Supporting Heroes will recognize COVID-19 as being contracted in the line of duty if the first responder tests positive for COVID within 14 days of line-of-duty activity or action. This presumption shall apply UNLESS compelling evidence indicates that the virus was contracted in a manner or from a source unrelated to duty.
Deaths that would otherwise qualify can be denied by Supporting Heroes if any of the following factors are present:
- Death was caused by the public safety worker’s intentional misconduct
- Death was caused by the public safety worker’s intent to bring about his/her own death
- The public safety worker was voluntarily intoxicated
- The public safety worker performed his/her duties in a grossly negligent manner
- Actions of a potential beneficiary of LODD benefits substantially contributed to the public safety worker’s death
NOTE: These factors are not absolute causes for denial. The circumstances of each submission will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
A Note About Suicide
While Supporting Heroes is sympathetic to the very stressful nature of public safety service and recognizes that PTSD is a very real issue, suicide is specifically disqualified from being treated as death occurring in the line of duty pursuant to the disentitling factors listed herein.
The criteria presented herein are guidelines used by Supporting Heroes when considering the classification of a death as ‘line of duty’ for its internal purposes and are subject to change without notice. When in doubt, concerned parties are encouraged to contact us directly to discuss the specifics of a particular death. Each is considered on a case-by-case basis.