This past week, Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation reaffirming a decades-old benefit for the children of fallen firefighters -- a benefit threatened by a self-appointed "watchdog" in the bowels of California State University.
AB 2164 (Patrick O'Donnell) clarifies the 1970s law providing public university tuition waivers for the children of fallen firefighters, ensuring that the law will extend to cases where the firefighter died of job-related illness.
John Mazzocco was a 17-year L.A. County firefighter and proud member of Los Angeles County Firefighters Local 1014. Courageous and determined to the end, Brother Mazzocco died before his time at age 48 after an excruciating battle with job-related cancer.
The loss was devastating to his family, but his two teenage sons would benefit from the law ... or so they thought. One son opting to attend community college was immediately granted the education assistance. But when his brother tried to enroll in Chico State, CSU’s legal staff defied precedent and turned thumbs down. Their cruel and narrow legal view: Only firefighters who die on the scene of an incident qualify as “line of duty deaths.”
“Up until that moment, there had never been a question that my husband gave his life in the line of duty,” said his widow, Lori.
When word got back to Brother Mazzocco’s brothers and sisters, the union got to work.
Local 1014 contacted California Professional Firefighters which, after extensive research, confirmed that the CSU interpretation was not shared by either UC or community college. CPF even secured a legal opinion supporting the waiver. In response, CSU threatened to take away benefits individual colleges had already granted to students, in effect throwing them out.
Working with firefighter-friendly Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell, CPF sponsored AB 2164. The measure clarifies for all concerned what has long been recognized: Line-of-duty-deaths include those caused by job-related illness.
Lori Mazzocco personally testified on its behalf, as did Local 1014 President Dave Gillotte and Davis Firefighters Local 3494 member Emily Lo. CPF worked closely with its legislative allies and the governor’s office to smooth over trouble spots.
In the end, AB 2164 was approved unanimously and signed by Governor Jerry Brown. “Children of fallen firefighters shouldn’t be punished based on how their parent died,” said CPF President Lou Paulson. “This bill ensures California law is interpreted the way it was always meant to be.”
When all was said and done, fallen firefighter families won the security they deserve for the sacrifices they made. And the good folks on CSU’s legal staff learned a lesson about solidarity: The union is all of us.