The House Workforce Protections Subcommittee has taken the first step in moving legislation to provide presumptive benefits to federal fire fighters. The Federal Firefighters Fairness Act, HR 2499, introduced by Representatives Salud Carbajal (D-CA) and Don Bacon (R-NE), would establish a rebuttable presumptive workers’ compensation benefit for federal fire fighters suffering from occupational illnesses.
Having repeatedly weighed in with members of Congress on this legislation, General President Edward Kelly notes that the burdens placed on federal fire fighters to identify a specific toxin or incident of exposure are too high and the rigidity of this requirement unnecessarily impedes federal fire fighters from the benefits they deserve.
In a letter to the subcommittee seeking swift action on the bill, General President Kelly noted; “Federal fire fighters have some of the most hazardous and sensitive jobs in the country. While protecting our national interests, federal fire fighters are routinely exposed to carcinogenic smoke, toxic substances, high heat and stress. The cumulative effect of repetitive exposures place fire fighters at an increased risk of developing occupational diseases, such as cancer, heart and lung disease. Securing presumptive benefits is critical to obtaining coverage of occupational illness and disease from the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.”
Representative Carbajal appeared before the subcommittee to advocate for the bill. In his comments, Representative Carbajal stated, “California was the first state to pass a fire fighters’ presumptive illness law in 1982. Today, 49 of 50 states have presumptive illness laws that cover state and local fire fighters. Sadly, not one of these laws covers federal fire fighters.” Further, Representative Carbajal called on his colleagues to act. “It is time to pass a presumptive illness law for our federal fire fighters and not continue to treat them as second-class fire fighters,” he said.
Director of Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs Christopher J. Godfrey, who is responsible for servicing claims of occupational illness or injury filed by federal fire fighters, also testified before the subcommittee. During questioning by House Education and Labor Committee Chairman Bobby Scott (D-VA), Director Godfrey acknowledged that, “The legislation is a positive piece of legislation that does address issues related to federal fire fighters, especially with those very difficult to prove long-term occupation diseases due to exposure.”
“We will continue to put the full weight of the IAFF behind the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act as we vigorously advocate for its passage,” says Kelly.