Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, and Republican Rep. Patrick Meehan of Pennsylvania on Thursday introduced H.R. 3718, the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act, which would help federal fire fighters harmed through the hazards of their service obtain disability benefits. This will bring parity to federal and non-federal firefighters who serve our communities.
Numerous studies have found heart disease, lung disease, certain cancers and other infectious diseases to be occupational hazards of firefighting. Most municipal firefighters are automatically able to get disability coverage when they are diagnosed with such illnesses.
However, federal firefighters — those who protect national forests, military installations, nuclear facilities and VA hospitals, and are regularly exposed to toxic substances, biohazards, temperature extremes and stress — must reach a higher threshold for coverage by pinpointing the precise incident or exposure that caused the disease. This is not feasible and leaves many federal firefighters sick, but without care.
“Americans know that our firefighters are brave, specially trained heroes who run into a fire when everyone else is getting out of the way,” Capps said. “For this demanding work they deserve our sincere respect, thanks and support. Our firefighters at the state, county and municipal levels get the ‘benefit of the doubt’ that their disabilities are connected to their exceptionally hard profession — a job that requires courage and clearly puts one at risk. However, most Americans would surely be surprised to find out that our federal firefighters don’t have the same access to those disability benefits. This is a clear injustice. I authored the bipartisan Federal Firefighters Fairness Act to correct this unacceptable gap in benefits and support our federal firefighters. Together with my colleague Rep. Meehan, we will work tirelessly to advance it at every opportunity until it becomes law.”
“Federal firefighters face all the same risks as municipal and state firefighters, and we owe to them the same gratitude for their bravery and sacrifice,” Meehan said. “This legislation ensures that our federal firefighters are treated fairly under the law and brings them to parity with their local counterparts.”
“I applaud Representatives Capps and Meehan for reintroducing the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act,” said Harold Schaitberger, general president of the International Association of Fire Fighters. “By creating a rebuttable presumption that federal fire fighters who become disabled by occupational illnesses contracted such illnesses as a result of their job, this important legislation will go a long way to help such fire fighters receive their hard-earned benefits.”
Capps, along with four other members, first introduced a similar bill in 2001. In 2005, Capps was the co-lead sponsor on the bill, and since 2007 Capps has introduced the FFFA each Congress, along with several Republican co-leads.
The bill is supported by the International Association of Fire Fighters, the Congressional Fire Services Institute and the National Fire Protection Association.
Currently, 42 states have some presumptive disability laws for municipal or state firefighters. These states include Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.
There will be more information about a Santa Barbara press event on this bill coming later this month.
— Chris Meagher is the press secretary for Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara.