Jan 03, 2023

Federal Firefighters Win Decades-Long Fight for Cancer Presumption

A decades-long battle to protect federal firefighters stricken by job-related cancer ended with the stroke of a pen.

The National Defense Authorization Act, signed by Pres. Joe Biden, includes the provisions of the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act, authored by Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Santa Barbara). The bipartisan legislation ensures that federal firefighters receive the same workers’ compensation presumption that currently exists for nearly all state and local professional firefighters.

“This is going to change the lives of thousands of federal firefighters across the country, as well as the lives of their families,” said CPF 5th District Vice President Charlie Martinez, who represents federal firefighters in CPF.

The stand-alone legislation (H.R. 2499) broke through logjams from previous years, and won overwhelming bipartisan approval this past spring. It was subsequently folded into the massive defense spending authorization signed by Pres. Biden. Biden had been a strong supporter of the presumption from his days in the U.S. Senate.

“Our civilian firefighters protect military installations and federal facilities, including nuclear facilities,” Martinez said. “This important legislation ensures equitable treatment for all firefighters that suffer from these injuries, and we’re grateful to Congress for their approval and the president for his signature.”

Martinez and his brothers and sisters at Vandenberg Local F-116 have been relentless in pursuit of the federal cancer presumption. The measure has been introduced by Carbajal and his predecessors in the Central Coast district every year since 1998. Martinez said the breakthrough this year was due, in large measure, to an all-out lobbying effort in Congress, led in large measure by California’s firefighters.

“CPF’s impact this year was monstrous,” said Martinez. “The hallways in Congress were full of our state and local brothers and sisters, meeting with their local members and putting this issue front and center. In the end, 50 of 52 California House members, from both parties, voted for it.”

“Federal firefighters work side-by-side with their state and local partners on the front lines, but the federal government imposed an almost impossibly high standard of proof for job-related illness,” said CPF President Brian Rice. “The brothers and sisters in our federal affiliates have never wavered from the fight to correct this unequal treatment. It’s a great victory for them and for all our firefighters.”

According to the IAFF, nearly 100 federal firefighters file cancer-related workers’ comp claims each year, but more than 80 percent are rejected for “lack of evidence.” The new law establishes that these illnesses will be “presumed” as job-related, so federal firefighters can get the workers’ comp benefits they deserve.

In addition to the firefighter presumption, the defense authorization bill signed by the president also includes another landmark. Beginning in 2023, DoD civilian fire departments will be subject to minimum staffing requirements based on NFPA 1710. That means four firefighters on a structural firefighting rig and three on those responding to aircraft fires.