Federal Fire Fighters Win Big in Congress

December 16 • 2019

Federal fire fighters gained several new benefits as Congress finalized the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020. The bill includes a number of important health and safety provisions to protect fire fighters from the toxic chemical, PFAS, as well as language guaranteeing federal fire fighters 12 weeks of paid leave upon the birth or adoption of a child.

“By eliminating the use of toxic foams and expanding leave benefits, this authorization is the most consequential and beneficial for federal fire fighters in more than a decade,” says General President Harold Schaitberger. “These issues transcend partisan politics. I applaud Congress for its support to pass the NDAA into law and its commitment to the well-being and financial security of our federal brothers and sisters.”

The IAFF and our affiliates lobbied hard throughout the year to ensure federal fire fighter priorities were addressed in the final bill.

Among the new requirements, the final bill requires that all Department of Defense (DoD) fire fighters receive testing for PFAS in their blood as part of their annual physicals. Based on original IAFF-authored legislation sponsored by Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Representatives Donald Norcross (D-NJ) and Michael Turner (R-OH), this important provision will provide federal fire fighters the information they need to track occupational exposure and help address potential health impacts.

Several additional provisions in the NDAA will lead to the ultimate elimination of foam containing PFAS. The new law requires:

  • Banning all firefighting foam containing PFAS from training.
  • Banning the uncontrolled release of PFAS foam for any purpose other than putting out fires.
  • Requiring the DoD to publish a new, non-fluorinated firefighting foam military specification by January 23, 2023.
  • Banning the use of PFAS foam by the military by October 1, 2024.
  • Authorizing an additional $10 million to study PFAS health impacts.

The bill also grants 12 weeks paid family leave for federal employees following the birth or adoption of a child. The new benefit will supplement employees’ existing sick and annual leave.

Finally, the bill authorizes construction of new federal fire stations at the Pentagon and Camp Lejeune.

The legislation passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a vote of 377-48. It is expected to pass the Senate and be signed into law shortly thereafter.