The IAFF is calling for the support and passage of the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act, which would classify occupational cancer deaths as line-of-duty deaths for first responders, making surviving family members eligible for Public Safety Officer Benefits (PSOB).
The PSOB program currently provides federal death and disability benefits to the families of first responders who die or become disabled in the line of duty due to on-the-job injuries and medical conditions, including heart attacks, strokes, and COVID-19. Cancer, however, is not covered.
“When a fire fighter dies due to occupational cancer – as St. Paul fire fighter Mike Paidar did in 2020 – we owe it to them to ensure their families get the line-of-duty benefits they deserve,” said General President Edward Kelly.
St. Paul, MN Local 21 member Mike Paidar died in 2020 from acute myeloid leukemia after being exposed to carcinogens on the job. His wife, Julie, successfully petitioned the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to classify her husband’s death as line of duty. In a historical first for Minnesota, the Paider family was awarded line-of-duty death benefits for occupational cancer.
“I’ve always said this is not just for Mike. This is for others that, hopefully, something good can come out of our heartache,” said Julie.
“Fire fighters go to work every day knowing they could be exposed to carcinogens that will make them sick or end their lives. Congress must honor the memory of Brother Paidar and so many others like him by passing the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act,” said 5th District Vice President Thomas Thornberg. “The families of our fallen brothers and sisters should not be left with the burden of proving their loved one’s cancer was the result of on-the-job exposure to receive line-of-duty death benefits.”
If passed, the bill would also extend benefits in cases where first responders become permanently and totally disabled due to cancer.
The bill is co-sponsored in the Senate by Minnesota Democrat Amy Klobuchar and North Dakota Republican Kevin Cramer.
“Our bipartisan legislation will honor the memory and sacrifice of St. Paul Fire Department Captain Michael Paidar and so many others who risk their lives in service of their communities,” said Klobuchar.
“Firefighters and first responders put their lives and health on the line every day and have an increased risk of receiving devastating diagnoses many years after exposure to carcinogens,” said Cramer. “Our bill expands benefits to include occupationally-connected cancers to care for those who protect our communities.”
Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-FL) and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ).
“As the only career firefighter paramedic serving in Congress and as the City of Miami’s very first Cuban American Fire Chief, it’s an honor and a duty to introduce the bipartisan Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act,” said Gimenez. “Our first responders go above and beyond the line of duty to protect the communities they serve, and this legislation would guarantee that they have access to the lifesaving care they rightfully deserve.”
“First responders encounter many dangers on the job every single day, and tragically one of those is exposure to deadly carcinogens,” said Pascrell. “The data is clear that fire fighters disproportionately face various cancer-related sicknesses and death. This legislation will fix a hole in the law to make sure that first responders who get sick from their service receive their full federal benefits.”
The legislation has the backing of the country’s fire and police organizations.
“The IAFF is proud to support this bill and encourages Congress to act quickly to stand with the families of our fallen fire fighters,” said Kelly. “It’s time to right this wrong.”