Carbajal’s Federal Firefighters Fairness Act Passes U.S. House in Bipartisan Vote

Bipartisan measure ensures federal firefighters receive same access to benefits as their non-federal counterparts

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 288-131 to approve and advance the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act, a bipartisan measure authored by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) that ensures federal firefighters receive the same access to job-related disability and retirement benefits as state, county, and municipal firefighters.

Carbajal’s measure would create the presumption that federal firefighters who become disabled by serious diseases–including heart disease, lung disease, certain cancers, and other infectious diseases–contracted the illness on the job.

Federal firefighters do not have the presumption that local firefighters have in 49 out of 50 U.S. states– and are forced to identify specific exposures that may have caused their illness. This burden of proof makes it extraordinarily difficult for federal firefighters to qualify for workers comp and disability benefits related to their work.

“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,” said Rep. Carbajal. “Federal firefighters have been on the front lines 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.”

The measure would improve benefits for more than 20,000 federal firefighters across the U.S.

The measure was introduced by Carbajal and Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE), Mark Takano (D-CA), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) last April.

“Our nation’s firefighters, paramedics, and other rescue crews put their lives on the line and constantly expose themselves to toxic substances and deadly fumes,” said Rep. Bacon. “Creating the presumption that those who became disabled from serious diseases contracted the illness while serving in fire protection activities, ensures these emergency first responders will receive treatment and benefits that would normally not be covered. I am pleased to stand by this mission along with my colleagues from across the aisle and will help get this over the finish line.”

“Firefighters put their lives at risk to serve, protect, and respond to their communities at a moment’s notice. We must ensure that if they develop certain health conditions while on the job, they have necessary benefits available to them and their survivors. H.R. 2499 would expand eligibility for federal benefits, including workers’ compensation benefits, so they can continue their service with greater peace of mind. It’s our responsibility to guarantee that these labor protections are in place, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to see this through,” said Rep. Takano.

“Our federal firefighters put their lives on the line each day to serve communities and protect wildlands across the nation,” said Rep. Fitzpatrick. “Federal fighters who suffer from deadly cancer and disease caused by their line of work should have access to the same disability and retirement benefits as fellow firefighters serving on the state and local level. I am glad the House has moved forward this bipartisan bill, and I urge the Senate to act.”

Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Susan Collins (R-ME) are the lead sponsors of a bipartisan companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

“We know fire fighters are routinely exposed to carcinogens on fire scenes. Sadly, our brothers and sisters in federal service are too often denied the benefits they deserve when needed the most,” said International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) General President Edward Kelly. “The Federal Firefighter Fairness Act brings the federal government in line with the 49 states that recognize the deadly link between firefighting and cancer. The IAFF thanks Rep. Carbajal for this landmark legislation that will help fire fighters with occupational cancer focus on their treatment rather than battling bureaucracy. Our 327,000 members urge the Senate to follow the House’s lead and pass this bill as soon as possible. Our lives depend on it.”

“AFGE strongly supports the House passage of the Federal Firefighter Fairness Act. AFGE applauds the House and Congressman Carbajal for advancing this important legislation to create a presumption of workplace illness for workers compensation benefits for federal firefighters who contract certain cancers and heart disease. This is a critical step to create parity among federal, state, and local firefighters and deliver much needed benefits for federal workers protecting and serving the American public and their loved ones,” said Everett Kelley is the National President of the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).

Background on the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act:

Federal firefighters are regularly exposed to injury, disease and stress while protecting our national interests at military installations, nuclear facilities, VA hospitals, and other federal facilities. Numerous studies have found heart disease, lung disease, certain cancers, and other infectious diseases to be occupational hazards of firefighting.

In order 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.

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. 

Rep. Salud Carbajal represents California’s 24th congressional district, encompassing Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and part of Ventura County. He sits on the House Armed Services Committee, Agriculture Committee, and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he serves as the Chair of the Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation.

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