Carbajal’s Federal Firefighter Fairness Act Signed into Law
Bipartisan measure ensures federal firefighters enjoy the same access to benefits as their non-federal counterparts
Washington, December 23, 2022
Today, President Joe Biden signed into law a measure authored by Congressman Salud Carbajal (CA-24) to improve disability and retirement benefits for federal firefighters by ensuring they receive the same access to job-related disability and retirement benefits as state, county, and municipal firefighters.
“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 here in California and around the nation,” said Congressman Carbajal. “That’s why I have worked for years to get this bipartisan commonsense bill to improve federal firefighters’ health and retirement benefits across the finish line. I’m proud today, after five years sponsoring and advocating for this bill, to see it signed into law by President Biden.”
“I’m grateful to my House and Senate colleagues who saw the importance of this bill and who helped me in pushing it through, including Speaker Pelosi, Leader Hoyer, Chairman Adam Smith and Chairman Bobby Scott, Congressman Bill Johnson, my original co-leads Chairman Takano and Congressmen Bacon and Fitzpatrick, and the champions of our Senate companion bill Chairman Tom Carper and Senator Susan Collins.”
The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act creates 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 many local firefighters have – 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.
The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) estimates this measure would improve benefits for more than 10,000 firefighters across the U.S.
"Cancer is the number one killer of fire fighters and eliminating this threat is the IAFF's highest priority. Our sisters and brothers employed by the federal government face the same dangers and exposures as all our members, but they have long been denied their hard-earned worker's compensation benefits. The IAFF applauds Senators Tom Carper and Susan Collins and Representatives Salud Carbajal and Don Bacon for leading the fight to make sure federal fire fighters can keep their health insurance, salary, and other benefits so that they can focus on their treatments and recovery from cancer," said IAFF General President Edward A. Kelly. "Supporting our brother and sister fire fighters in their battles against cancer goes right to the core of what we do as a union and what our nation owes to fire fighters. Thank you to all elected leaders who have corrected this long-standing disparity and we appreciate the shared commitment to protecting those who protect others.”
“We applaud Representative Salud Carbajal and Senator Tom Carper for the inclusion of the Federal Firefighter Fairness Act in the NDAA,” said Everett Kelley, National President to the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE). “This bill will help federal firefighters’ access to health and safety benefits in the workplace. Specifically, this bill creates an automatic presumption of disability for federal firefighters who develop heart disease or certain forms of cancer so that they can qualify for workers’ compensation.”
"For decades, occupational illnesses have been medically and scientifically proven to occur at exceptionally higher frequencies among all firefighters across our nation. This 24 year battle was long overdue for our federal firefighters who serve on our federal installations as well as the frontlines of wildland fires. This law will not only positively affect our firefighters, but also their families at home,” said Charlie Martinez, Vice President of the California Professional Firefighter's Fifth District, which represents the federal firefighters in California including Vandenberg Space Force Base, IAFF Local F-116. “I cannot begin to describe the many lives that will be affected by this! All federal firefighters owe a huge thank you to Congress for recognizing and passing this legislation."
The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2021 was introduced by Carbajal and Reps. Don Bacon (R-NE), Mark Takano (D-CA), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) in April 2021.
The measure, which Carbajal has sponsored since his first year in Congress, first passed the House in May 2022, and again as a part of the Fiscal Year 2023 National Defense Authorization 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.
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 48 out of 50 states with health presumption laws for state and local firefighters. These laws do not cover federal firefighters.
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