Last September, the Whitehall community lost a native who did more for Whitehall than he did for himself.
James Brooks Jr., better known as Jim, succumbed at the age of 45, and the town and village lost a dedicated volunteer fireman who put his life on the line for others.
Brooks joined the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Department in 1993 and was always looking out for his community. Little did he know that the Whitehall Volunteer Fire Department would become one of his biggest passions. His sister, Kathleen Brooks, described him as guy who always loved helping others.
“He started caring for people and he got involved in being an EMT, working in hospitals,” she said. “And obviously working as a volunteer firefighter that sets a precedence of who he was. He gave himself and his time.”
Jim spent a lot of his time in the outdoors as a child with his family and then proceeded to find his passions such as fishing, a bit of hunting, and overall just being with his family. But when it came to rescuing others, he just wanted to be there for the community members and give back as much as he could to them, his sister said.
“He cared about his community. Whitehall was where his roots were. With our family, he was carrying on the legacy of loving and respecting our hometown and wanting to be involved with the community and he really, really was,” she said.
Brooks noted that her brother had many roles within the fire department and added that some things might have gone unnoticed, such as how he went above and beyond to make his community members happy. Simple actions such as putting flags up in the cemeteries for past volunteer firefighters to honor their service. This is just one of the many things he would make sure was done for the community.
“You know if the girls’ softball team won or were going to state finals and championships, he would arrange to have the school busses escorted back into town just to celebrate that they made it that far,” Kathleen Brooks said. “
He would be one of the first guys that would make sure that when the elementary school is doing their fire education week, he would make sure the fire trucks were up there and showing the kids around and how the hose works,” she added. “Those are the types of things people don’t think about when they think about their volunteer firefighters in our community.”
Jim passed due to a heart injury sustained while on the job with the volunteer fire department and faces more than a million dollars’ worth of hospital bills, even after his passing.
This is where Kathleen has decided enough is enough.
It’s hard enough losing a family member; the last thing the family should have to worry about is a financial burden. Because of this, the Brooks’ family is fighting for a change in the New York State regulation for volunteer firefighters.
The Brooks family, community members and firefighters within Washington County will be at the Firemen’s Association of New York (FASNY) in Albany on April 19 because New York state senators will be discussing the “James P. Brooks Jr.” bill.
The James P Brooks Jr. bill will be for the protection of firefighters and their families that have gone through the same thing as the Brooks’ family. The bill fights for the state of New York to have the same regulation as the federal government when it comes to events such as this.
“The broad scope of this bill essentially would say that any heart-related injury while in the line of duty is considered automatically payable,” she said. “It basically makes it so that it matches the federal guidelines on taking care of the insurance for what is payable and what is not.”
Brooks said she is disappointed in the lack of support that the state of New York has given to fireman benefits laws. The initial claim was filed when Brooks was still around, but they are still fighting for justice for Jim.
“Nationally, any heart-related injury or death of a firefighter while in the line of duty is considered automatically payable. So the last thing our family was thinking about was his medical bills because we knew, and most volunteer firefighters know, in their part that is their payment. That’s the one thing that they have that they can count on if god forbid something happens to them.”
The Brooks family wants to make sure that this doesn’t have to happen to other families with volunteer firefighters in the state of New York. They don’t want to have other families have to go through the pain of losing a loved one while also having to worry about the medical costs resulting from the injury.
Brooks said these men and women put their life on the line for others every day for nothing but helping their community members stay safe.
“If, god forbid, something happens to them, they don’t have to worry about the money. They don’t have to worry about their family and their children being taken care of. They don’t have to worry about those things because it has been kind of engrained in them that the benefit is there specifically for that reason,” she said.
Within Washington County, there are no paid fire departments. All 26 fire departments in the county are volunteer-based. This raises more cause for the bill to be passed in the eyes of the Brooks’ family, seeing as these firefighters go out and risk their lives to save community members.
Men and women of Washington County put thousands of hours into training and working to keep their communities safe with nothing but the positive feeling of saving a life as a reward.
“Literally they volunteer, they make nothing, they get nothing,” she said. “There is nothing they are getting out of being volunteers other than they are passionate about their communities.”
The Brooks’ family keeps in mind that no one should have to go through this and the reason they keep on fighting is for the families that could be affected like this in the future. When Brooks discussed the battle they are in with the insurance company, she mentioned she thinks the companies never plan to have someone fight them.
“I think they count of families not fighting,” she said. “And of course my brother passed away, and we have every reason to stop fighting, but we’re not going to. It’s not about us anymore, I don’t want to see other families to go through this.,
Again, the bill will be presented to New York senators on April 19. The time is still to be decided, but Brooks plans on keeping her Facebook page up to date with information on the event for individuals who are interested in attending the discussion with senators.
“With getting this bill to pass, and I don’t know how long it’s going to take officially, essentially what we’re going to be doing is making sure we have support from New York state senators and getting it passed through,” she said.
“I believe that if we are able to win our case on behalf of my brother and my parents, that maybe would help.”