James “Dustin” Samples Act Fights for Legislation for First Responders
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (WDEF) – The Cleveland community gathered together after firefighter James “Dustin” Samples took his own life in December 2020.
Captain Samples was diagnosed with PTSD in 2014 and tried to seek help before taking his own life.
“We are our own worst enemy. It’s not cancer, it’s not fires, we’re taking our own lives,” said firefighter Nate Kuzdzal.
The 303 Project is named after Captain Samples badge number and aims to make PTSD a work-related injury in the state of Tennessee.
“It’s not just one man’s story,” Jennifer Samples, Dustin’s widow, said. “It is statewide, it is nationwide. First responders are dealing with this all over the place. And it’s time we put some legislation in place to help them fight this the best they can.”
The bill would allow firefighters to seek help early and receive financial assistance from their employer.
“These are the people that would absolutely run into a burning building. Do anything in the world to lay their life on the line to protect you. This is the one time they need to protect themselves,” Samples continued.
The 303 Project is gathering support by collecting signatures on three separate flags.
One is starting in Cleveland, one in Kingsport, and the other in Memphis.
“All three starting points had a flag, which we’re having people sign along the way,” Kuzdzal said. “It’s going from department to department, and we’re all going to meet in Nashville on February 20th, which is the Day on the Hill.”
Here, fire departments and legislators will come together to discuss issues within the fire service.
This day will be key on whether or not the bill receives enough support to continue on.