Legislation to provide workers’ compensation for federal firefighters who contract certain illnesses as a result of their service passed the House of Representatives today. Included in the bill is a good-governance amendment offered by Rep. Greg Stanton that requires the Labor Secretary to notify Congress when petitions to add new diseases to the list are approved or denied.
H.R. 2499, the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act of 2022, lists 16 different eligible work-related occupational diseases that will be covered. In addition to on-the-job hazards, firefighters are exposed to many kinds of chemicals which can lead to illness. According to the International Association of Firefighters, more firefighters die from cancer than from on-the-job accidents.
“Even as Arizona experiences unprecedented and brutal wildfire seasons year after year, our brave firefighters put themselves in harm’s way to keep Arizona communities safe. Yet bureaucratic obstacles have prevented those employed by the federal government from receiving the long-term care they need and deserve,” said Stanton. “This bill will finally provide federal firefighters with the same benefits and care as their municipal and state counterparts.”
For years, federal firefighters who needed workers’ compensation have faced needless difficulties and a steep burden of proof that is often difficult for them to meet because they work in such a wide variety of environments and conditions.
Federal firefighters must pinpoint the precise incident or exposure that caused a disease for it to be considered job-related. The U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior maintain a workforce of more than 15,000 federal firefighters who respond to wildfires across the nation.
Forty-eight states, including Arizona, have passed workers’ compensation laws that presume certain cancers, and other diseases, are work-related. The presumptive cancer protection means that firefighters no longer have to prove where the cancer they developed came from in order to be covered by workers’ compensation. Instead, certain types of cancer are automatically considered occupational.
The legislation is endorsed by the International Association of Fire Chiefs, International Association of Fire Fighters, and American Federation of Government Employees (AFGE).
The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.
A fact sheet is available HERE.
Video of Stanton’s remarks are available HERE.