Carper, Collins Bill Would Secure Federal Firefighters’ Benefits for Diseases Contracted in Line of Duty

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), both co-chairs of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, reintroduced legislation to help ensure federal firefighters receive the financial support they deserve for diseases contracted in the line of duty. The Federal Firefighter Fairness Act of 2021 classifies a range of firefighting-linked illnesses, like lung diseases and certain cancers, contracted by federal firefighters as “job-related” and makes them automatically eligible for federal workers’ compensation and disability retirement benefits. Senators Carper and Collins were joined by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). Angus King (I-Maine) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) as original cosponsors. Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) introduced a House companion bill.

The bill also has the support of the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

“Federal firefighters run towards danger to save lives, protect property and safeguard our country’s public lands,” said Senator Carper. “But for too long, they have been forced to navigate a difficult pathway to secure workers’ compensation for diseases shown to be caused by fighting fires — like respiratory illnesses and a variety of cancers. This bipartisan measure would help these heroic men and women get the financial support they deserve for putting their own personal safety at risk. I want to thank Sen. Collins and Rep. Carbajal for joining me again on this important effort.”

“Every day across the country, firefighters put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe,” said Senator Collins. “Federal firefighters protect some of our nation’s most critical assets and infrastructure, and these brave men and women should have the same occupational safeguards and benefits as most of their colleagues at the local level. Our legislation would allow federal firefighters to receive the benefits they deserve when they fall ill as a result of their service to our nation.”

“California unfortunately knows all too well the sacrifices that firefighters make to protect us from deadly fires, including wildfires. Firefighters put themselves at great risk for chronic disease later in life. We owe it to them to ensure they get the care and compensation necessary for any work-related illnesses or injuries.” said Senator Feinstein.

“Firefighters face immediate danger on a regular basis – but studies have shown that a lifetime of service can also contribute to health problems that arise later in life, including lung disease and a number of cancers,” said Senator King. “For far too long, our federal firefighters facing serious work-related illnesses have been forced to fight a maze of bureaucracies and red tape to receive the worker’s compensation they have earned by answering the call to service. This bipartisan legislation would right this wrong, providing the resources and peace of mind required to focus their energies on getting healthy. Let’s pass this bill – now.”

“Our federal firefighters work tirelessly to help keep our communities safe – often risking their own lives. They should not have to fight their way through bureaucratic red tape when their health is threatened by their line of work,” said Senator Van Hollen. “This bipartisan bill will ensure federal firefighters receive the assistance they’re owed when battling health problems related to their service.”

“Firefighters have been on the frontlines as California experiences unprecedented wildfire seasons year after year. When a fire breaks out, it means all hands on deck to protect our communities, regardless of whether you are a federal, state or municipal firefighter,” said Rep. Carbajal. “The threshold for federal firefighters to prove work-related illness is much higher than their state or local counterparts here in California and around the nation. This legislation gives our brave federal firefighters the healthcare benefits they deserve for putting themselves in harm’s way to protect us all.”

The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act would amend Federal Employee Compensation Act to create a presumption that a disability or death of a federal firefighter caused by certain diseases is the result of the performance of the employee’s duty. The diseases include heart and lung diseases, and various cancers such as brain cancer, cancer of the blood or lymphatic systems, skin cancer, bladder cancer, kidney cancer, testicular cancer, cancer of the digestive system, skin cancer, cancer of the respiratory system, and breast cancer. 

Supporters of the bill include the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

“Federal fire fighters are on the frontlines protecting our nation’s most important military installations, laboratories, and national grounds, yet the federal government denies workers compensation benefits when a fire fighter falls victim to occupational cancers, heart and lung disease,” said Edward A. Kelly, General President of the IAFF. “The link between firefighting and these deadly diseases are scientifically proven, yet the federal government leaves the families of our fallen behind. I applaud Senator Carper for his leadership on this critical issue and for working to provide federal fire fighters this long overdue benefit.”

“Federal firefighters work hard every day to protect lives and property at military bases, VA hospitals, and other federal installations across the country,” said Everett B. Kelley, President of AFGE. “This legislation would ensure that federal firefighters are covered by workers’ compensation if they are harmed in the line of duty or fall ill as a result of their service. On behalf of the federal firefighters and first responders that AFGE represents, I thank Senator Carper and Representative Carbajal for introducing this legislation and look forward to working with the Senate and House to pass this commonsense bill.”

View full text of the bill HERE.