Monday, August 20 , 2018, 4:13 pm | Fair 75º


Local News

Capps Introduces Bill to Close Gap in Disability Benefits for Federal Firefighters

As it stands, and unlike city and county fire employees, federal firefighters must prove a disease or injury occurred on the job and is related to a specific incident

Certain diseases are considered job-related for county and city firefighters, but federal fire employees don’t get the same benefits. Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, has authored a bill to give these so-called presumptive disability benefits to federal fire employees like the ones with Vandenberg Air Force Base and the U.S. Forest Service.

As of now, they have to prove the exposure was on-the-job and pick out a specific incident, according to Chris Mahon with the International Association of Firefighters and California Professional Firefighters Association.

He said a change is long overdue.

“It’s simply not fair or right,” Mahon said during a joint news conference held Monday at the Earl Warren Showgrounds in Santa Barbara.

Federal firefighters fight alongside county and city firefighters for wildfires and mutual aid incidents, but don’t have the same disability benefits, Capps said.

If a county or city firefighter has a heart attack or gets lung disease, it’s assumed the injury or disease is connected to the dangers of firefighting. With this bill, federal firefighters would automatically get disability benefits if they have a disease related to firefighting, such as heart disease, lung disease, certain cancers, tuberculosis, hepatitis and human immunodeficiency virus.

The discrepancy between federal and local fire employees has existed for decades, Mahon said.

“We’re exposed to as much as everybody else, but we don’t have the presumptive laws,” said Michael Provencio with the Vandenberg Fire Department.

The 80-person team responds alongside Lompoc Fire for structure fires and many other incidents in addition to wildfires, missile launches and Vandenberg-specific calls.

Members of the Santa Maria City Fire and Santa Barbara City Fire departments came to support the legislation at Monday’s press conference.

“We fight the same fires, side by side, and do all that’s asked of us,” Santa Barbara fire Capt. Tony Pighetti said, adding that city firefighters have coverage for themselves if they get ill and their families are taken care of.

He said the department has had several members die from cancer, and exposure to certain diseases is all part of the job.

The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act was introduced Dec. 12 by Capps and Republican Rep. Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania.

Capps has introduced the bill before, in 2011, and a version of the same legislation was introduced in 2001. Capps said she doesn’t expect opposition, but that it’s difficult to get something passed within a two-year session of Congress. Bills have to be reintroduced every time a new session starts.

Firefighter unions brought the issue to her attention, she noted.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >