The United States government holds their federal firefighters to a tougher standard than state and local fire departments when trying to claim compensation for job-related illnesses. On the other hand, California was the first of the 48 states that now recognize firefighters are at a high risk for cancer and heart and lung diseases and should have medical bills paid when diagnosed with these diseases.
To correct this inequity, Congressmember Salud Carbajal has introduced the bipartisan bill HR 1174, known as the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2019. At a press conference on April 24 at Earl Warren Showgrounds, Carbajal, together with state, municipal, and federal firefighters, discussed the bill: “Federal firefighters do not receive the same benefits even though they share the same risks. This legislation gives our brave federal firefighters the healthcare benefits that they deserve for putting themselves in harm’s way to protect us all,” he said. “The federal government should be ashamed of itself.”
Several studies have shown that firefighters develop higher rates of cancer than the general population. Most recently, a study conducted by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health found that firefighters were twice as likely than the general population to be diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos.
S.B. City Firefighters Local 525 spokesperson Tony Pighetti, who attended the event, said that all fire departments, federal, state, and municipal, respond to dangerous incidents. “We fight fire side by side in the same exact conditions,” he said.
The bill does require federal firefighters to be in active service for five years before qualifying for benefits, including death benefits paid to their families. It also does not cover state prisoners who volunteer to fight fires and are presently paid $1-$2 per hour.
The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor. It does not have a hearing date at this time.