The House voted 288-131 Wednesday to approve and advance the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act, a bipartisan bill authored by Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara.
The bill ensures that federal firefighters receive the same access to job-related disability and retirement benefits as state, county and municipal firefighters.
If it passes in the Senate and is signed by President Joe Biden, the bill would improve benefits for more than 20,000 federal firefighters across the U.S., according to a news release from Rep. Carbajal’s office.
Federal firefighters are regularly exposed to injury, disease and stress while protecting national interests at military installations, nuclear facilities, Veterans Affairs hospitals and other federal facilities, the news release noted.
And numerous studies have found heart disease, lung disease, certain cancers, and other infectious diseases to be occupational hazards of firefighting.
To receive disability benefits under current federal law, federal firefighters are required to pinpoint the precise incident or exposure that caused a disease for it to be considered job-related. This burden of proof is extraordinarily difficult for firefighters to meet because they work in such a wide variety of environments and conditions, Rep. Carbajal’s office said.
California was the first state to pass a firefighter’s presumptive illness law in 1982. In 2019, Montana and Florida passed the same law making it 49 out of 50 states with health presumption laws for state and local firefighters. These laws do not cover federal firefighters.
“I’m pleased to see my measure to give our brave federal firefighters the healthcare benefits they have earned receive strong bipartisan backing on the House floor today as we send the measure over to the U.S. Senate,” Rep. Carbajal said in a statement. “Federal firefighters have been on the frontlines in California fighting wildfires as we experience longer and more extreme fire seasons, but their threshold to prove work-related illness is much higher than their state or local counterparts. This bill gives our federal firefighters the same protections and benefits for the service they do for our state and across the nation.”