WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), senior Democrat on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee and chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, reintroduced legislation to ensure that firefighters who are harmed in the line of duty or contract certain diseases as a result of their service are covered by federal worker’s compensation. The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2019 addresses the difficulties federal firefighters face when they attempt to prove that injuries resulted from serving in the line of duty. The bill also requires the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to report to Congress on the implementation of the legislation, including injury claims, evaluations of health risks, and additional recommendations.
According to a 2015 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, firefighters experience a nine percent increase in cancer diagnoses and a 14 percent increase in cancer-related deaths when compared to cancer rates among the U.S. population. Yet still, existing federal law does not include presumptive disability benefits that recognize certain occupational illnesses, like cancer, can result from employment in fire protection services. As a result, to qualify for disability retirement, federal firefighters have the difficult burden of proving the precise exposure and conditions that led to their illness. By comparison, Congress has granted presumptive disability benefits to other groups, including military veterans, World Trade Center responders, and public safety officers who die in the line of duty.
The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2019 is cosponsored by Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI), Angus King (I-ME), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI).
“Every day, our firefighters choose to run toward danger, risking their lives to protect their neighbors and fellow citizens. When an emergency occurs, these brave men and women are first to arrive at the scene, willingly facing difficult and dangerous environments to tame blazes, save lives, and protect property,” said Senator Carper. “Our federal firefighters put themselves in harm’s way every day, which can sometimes result in serious injury. And long after a blaze is tamed and the smoke clears, these men and women face a greater risk of disability and certain diseases because of their selfless actions. When our firefighters fall ill due to smoke inhalation and other hazards faced on the job, we have a responsibility to make sure they get the support they need. Today, I’m proud to reintroduce a bipartisan bill with Senator Collins that would help provide a better path to the care that these brave men and women need as a result of their work.”
“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.”
The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2019 would amend the Federal Employee Compensation Act (FECA), which provides federal employees injured in the performance of duty with workers' compensation benefits, to ensure that federal firefighters who experience specific disabilities shown to be related to firefighting are presumed eligible to receive compensation from the federal government.
The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act is supported by the International Association of Federal Firefighters (IAFF) and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).
Rep. Carbajal Salud (D-CA) introduced a House companion bill, H.R. 1174, which is co-sponsored by Reps. Don Bacon (NE-2), Elise Stefanik (NY-21), Mark Takano (CA-41), Brian K. Fitzpatrick (PA-1), Sean Patrick Maloney (NY-18), Anthony Brindisi (NY-22), Paul Mitchell (MI-10), Derek Kilmer (WA-6), Debra Haaland (NM-1), Elaine G. Luria (VA-2), Chris Pappas (NH-1), Eric Swalwell (CA-15), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC-AL), Lori Trahan (MA-3), Michael R. Turner (OH-10), Andy Kim (NJ-3), Scott H. Peters (CA-52), Josh Harder (CA-10), Pramila Jayapal (WA-7), Ben Ray Lujan (NM-3), Tom Cole (OK-4), Kim Schrier (WA-8), Bill Johnson (OH-6), Xochitl Torres Small (NM-2), Jennifer Wexton (VA-10).
Full text of the bill can be accessed here.