Lowcountry coroners pushing for ‘first responder’ status

Dorchester County News

DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCBD) – Dorchester County Coroner Paul Brouthers is pushing to make sure those who investigate deaths — and just as importantly are in charge of notifying family members that the worst has happened — are classified as he says they should be. A “first responder” designation would give them the same protections as other first responders.

“Right now the only thing that coroners enjoy as far as protection from injury is just through workmans comp,” said Brouthers.”There are enhanced benefit packages for first responders, people classified as first responders that are injured or killed in the line of duty coroners are exempt from that because we’re not classified as first responders.”

South Carolina House Bill 3958 is in committee and is expected to be considered when the new legislative session starts in January. Brouthers says, it appears to have some support, but fears without people understanding why it’s important, it could get lost in the shuffle. Case in point, Brouthers says the state’s organ procurement organizations are classified as first responders.Their jobs can’t begin until the coroner says they can, in a coroner’s case.

Former Charleston County Coroner Rae Wooten is joining the call urging lawmakers to get behind the bill. She says the fact this hasn’t been done has a lot to do with people not understanding the work coroners do. From the unknown of notifying the family of a loved one’s death, to working active crime and accident scenes.

“I have been on fatal traffic scenes where someone blows through the yellow tape and almost takes out a deputy a police officer and myself all working there hand-in-hand. If they kill both of us, or all of us they’re all first responders and I’m not? I’ve been on homicide scenes when I’ve had active gunfire going on where I could hear it, they’re first responders and I’m not? Somebody needs to explain to me how that makes any sense,” said Wooten.

i was on the law enforcement side for a long time in this area and i know what the danger is, but to the person just entering this field they don’t always know and they need to have protection in the performance of their duty,” Brouthers added. “It’s important. They have to go home to someone every night too and with a sound mind and if they’re not sound and they need help it ought to be afforded to them.”

Wooten says several lawmakers have pledged their support. Others we spoke to said it’s not a slam dunk and that any time you talk about expanding benefits there will be questions about where to cut-off the definition of “first responder”.

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