On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, introduced the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2021.
The bill aims to ensure federal firefighters receive the same opportunities and access to job-related disability and retirement benefits as state, county and municipal firefighters.
“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.”
To receive disability benefits under current federal law, federal firefighters must pinpoint the precise incident or exposure that caused a disease for it to be considered job-related. This burden of proof could be difficult for firefighters to meet because they work in such a wide variety of environments and conditions.
Federal firefighters are regularly exposed to injury, disease and stress while protecting national interests at military installations, nuclear facilities, VA hospitals and other federal facilities. Studies have found heart disease, lung disease, certain cancers and other infectious diseases to be occupational hazards of firefighting.
“The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2021 will finally provide our nation’s federal firefighters with the same dignity and respect as our municipal and state counterparts across our great country,” said Charlie Martinez Jr., president of Vandenberg Professional Firefighters and vice president of California Professional Firefighters. “It is no secret that occupational cancer is a very common reality for all members of the fire service. This bill will finally recognize certain cancers and infectious diseases as occupational illnesses for federal firefighters. This is long overdue and the right thing to do for our firefighters serving this country at federal installations nationwide.”
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 48 out of 50 states with health presumption laws for state and local firefighters. These laws do not cover federal firefighters.
The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2021l is co-led by representatives Don Bacon, R-Nebraska, Mark Takano, D-California and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pennsylvania. A Senate companion bill was introduced by Sens, Tom Carper, D-Delaware and Susan Collins, R-Maine.