U. S. Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Tom Carper (D-DE), co-chairs of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, introduced legislation Monday to ensure federal firefighters receive financial benefits if they contract a disease in the line of duty.
The Federal Firefighter Fairness Act of 2021 would classify a range of illnesses – like lung diseases and certain cancers – as “job-related,” making them automatically eligible for federal workers’ compensation and disability retirement benefits.
“Every day across the country, firefighters put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe,” said Senator Collins. “Federal firefighters protect some of our nation’s most critical assets and infrastructure, and these brave men and women should have the same occupational safeguards and benefits as most of their colleagues at the local level. Our legislation would allow federal firefighters to receive the benefits they deserve when they fall ill as a result of their service to our nation.”
Currently, the Federal Employee Compensation Act requires that firefighters prove that the illnesses they contract are job-related. The new legislation would create a presumption that firefighting is a cause of illnesses like heart and lung diseases; as well as brain, blood, skin, bladder, kidney, testicular, breast, digestive system, or respiratory system cancer, and require disability or death benefits to the firefighter and their families.
“Federal firefighters run towards danger to save lives, protect property and safeguard our country’s public lands,” Carper said. “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.”
Sens. Angus King (I-ME), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) co-sponsored the bill.
“Firefighters face immediate danger on a regular basis – but studies have shown that a lifetime of service can also contribute to health problems that arise later in life, including lung disease and a number of cancers,” King said. “For far too long, our federal firefighters facing serious work-related illnesses have been forced to fight a maze of bureaucracies and red tape to receive the worker’s compensation they have earned by answering the call to service. This bipartisan legislation would right this wrong, providing the resources and peace of mind required to focus their energies on getting healthy.”
The legislation is supported by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) and the American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).