Carbajal Introduces Federal Firefighters Fairness Act
Ensures federal firefighters enjoy the same access to benefits as their non-federal counterparts
Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) introduced the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2021. This bipartisan bill ensures federal firefighters receive the same access to job-related disability and retirement benefits as state, county, and municipal firefighters. This bill is co-led by Representatives Don Bacon (R-NE), Mark Takano (D-CA), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA). A Senate companion bill was introduced by Senators Tom Carper (D-DE) and Susan Collins (R-ME).
“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.”
“Federal firefighters run towards danger to save lives, protect property and safeguard our country’s public lands,” said Senator Carper. “But for too long, they have been forced to navigate a difficult pathway to secure workers’ compensation for diseases shown to be caused by fighting fires -- like respiratory illnesses and a variety of cancers. This bipartisan measure would help these heroic men and women get the financial support they deserve for putting their own personal safety at risk. I want to thank Sen. Collins and Rep. Carbajal for joining me again on this important effort.”
“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 instillations nationwide.”
“Federal fire fighters are on the frontlines protecting our nation’s most important military installations, laboratories, and national grounds, yet the federal government denies workers compensation benefits when a fire fighter falls victim to occupational cancers, heart and lung disease,” said Edward A. Kelly, General President of the IAFF. “The link between firefighting and these deadly diseases are scientifically proven, yet the federal government leaves the families of our fallen behind. I applaud Senator Carper for his leadership on this critical issue and for working to provide federal fire fighters this long overdue benefit.”
“Federal firefighters work hard every day to protect lives and property at military bases, VA hospitals, and other federal installations across the country,” said Everett B. Kelley, President of AFGE. “This legislation would ensure that federal firefighters are covered by workers’ compensation if they are harmed in the line of duty or fall ill as a result of their service. On behalf of the federal firefighters and first responders that AFGE represents, I thank Senator Carper and Representative Carbajal for introducing this legislation and look forward to working with the Senate and House to pass this commonsense bill.”
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. 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.
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.
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.