Legislation to ensure fire fighters who die or are permanently and totally disabled due to COVID-19 receive full federal benefits passed the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously and has been sent to the president for his signature.
The bill, S 3607, the Safeguarding America’s First Responders (SAFR) Act of 2020, was introduced by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), would establish a presumptive benefit under the Public Safety Officer Benefit (PSOB) program for public safety officers who contract COVID-19.
“Fire fighters who die in the line of duty shouldn’t have to prove how they contracted COVID-19,” says General President Harold Schaitberger. “By passing the SAFR Act, Congress recognizes the danger inherent in the jobs of public safety officers on the frontlines of the current pandemic, and rightly affords the families of the fallen the benefits they deserve.”
As the first healthcare providers responding to pre-hospital 9-1-1 calls, fire fighters are in constant close proximity to patients needing medical attention and at high risk for contracting the disease. Absent the presumptive coverage provided by S 3607, fire fighters would be required to show they contracted the virus in the workplace to receive federal benefit, a nearly impossible task. In most instances, responders do not know if a patient has COVID-19. Additionally, many patients do not display typical symptoms. Fire fighters and emergency medical personnel typically run multiple medical calls a day and have no way of knowing if any individual interaction resulted in transmission.
Recognizing this deficiency in law, the IAFF began working with Senators Grassley and Booker in March to craft the SAFR Act, which was introduced and passed by the Senate in May as the virus was peaking in many communities nationwide. Working closely with Representatives Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Max Rose (D-NY), this week’s vote brings culminates a months-long campaign to bring this important benefit to fruition.
To date, at least 10 IAFF members have died from COVID-19 and tens of thousands of members have been exposed. These numbers are guaranteed to rise.
S 3607 is expected to be quickly signed into law, and the IAFF will work closely with the administration so ensure its swift implementation.