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Friday, May 20th, 2022

Sens. Machin, Udall introduce firefighter protections bill during COVID-19 pandemic

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A new bill introduced by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Tom Udall (D-NM), ranking members of the Committee of Energy and Natural Resources and Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies respectively, proposes to test and ensure workers’ compensation coverage for federal firefighters working during COVID-19.

The COVID-19 as a Presumptive Disease in Wildland Firefighters Act grew out of concerns about the applicability and speed of workers’ compensation coverage for firefighters who contract COVID-19. That concern has risen as fire season looms.

“Our bill simply does two things,” Manchin said. “First, it requires all firefighters to be tested for COVID before coming on to work this fire season. Second, because of the unique living and working conditions that wildland firefighters undertake, if a firefighter contracts COVID-19 during the fire season, they will be presumed to have contracted it in the course of their job duties, ensuring their eligibility for workers’ compensation coverage.”

In this way, if a firefighter had to step back due to contracting the disease, payments to them would be a foregone conclusion. If COVID-19 was involved, the payments would be automatic.

“Wildland firefighters face inherent health hazards and safety risks in the normal course of their duties, but the highly contagious COVID-19 virus poses new dangers to firefighter safety,” said Timothy Ingalsbee, executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics and Ecology. “Crews must know that they will be supported with full medical care and workman’s compensation if they or one of their crewmembers get the virus and are unable to work due to illness or compulsory quarantine. Without this financial support guaranteed, firefighters may not be willing to assume the health and income risks to themselves and their families, and America risks depleting the federal firefighting workforce at the time the country needs it the most.”