WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Representative Carlos Gimenez (FL-28) and Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) introduced the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act. This bipartisan legislation would expand access to federal support for the families of firefighters and first responders who pass away from cancer caused by carcinogenic exposure during their service. The bill would also extend disability benefits in cases where they become permanently and totally disabled due to cancer. Currently, firefighters are only eligible for support under the Public Safety Officer Benefits (PSOB) program for physical injuries sustained in the line-of-duty, or for deaths from duty-related heart attacks, strokes, mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and 9/11 related illnesses. Congressman Gimenez is the only career firefighter paramedic in the U.S. House of Representatives. Bipartisan companion legislation in the Senate is led by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND)
The Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act would ensure that firefighters across the country are eligible to receive similar benefits under the federal PSOB program.
“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 life-saving care they rightfully deserve.”
“Our firefighters put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe and are often exposed to carcinogens that can have lethal long-term effects. It’s unacceptable that firefighters who succumb to cancer from work-related exposure or become permanently and totally disabled don’t receive the same treatment as others who die in the line of duty,” said Klobuchar. “That's why Senator Cramer and I are working to ensure that firefighters get the support they’ve earned. 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.”
“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.”
“Day in and day out, our fire and police heroes perform some of the hardest jobs in the world with bravery,” said Pascrell. “First responders encounter many dangers on the job every single day, and tragically one of those is exposure to deadly carcinogens. The data is clear that fire fighters disproportionately face various cancer-related sickness and death. Our men and women in uniform face many similar hazards. 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. In the year 2023, it’s past time our law fully recognized the dangers our heroes take to keep us safe.”
The Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) program provides benefits to the survivors of fire fighters; federal, state, and local law enforcement officers; and other first responders who are killed as the result of injuries sustained in the line of duty. The program also provides disability benefits where first responders become permanently or totally disabled. The Public Safety Officers' Educational Assistance (PSOEA) program, a component of the PSOB program, provides higher-education assistance to the children and spouses of public safety officers killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. The PSOB and PSOEA programs are administered by the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).
The Honoring our Fallen Heroes Act would expand access to federal support for the families of firefighters and first responders who pass away from cancer caused by carcinogenic exposure during their service. The bill would also extend disability benefits in cases where these first responders become permanently and totally disabled due to cancer.
The legislation is endorsed by the International Association of Fire Fighters, as well as the Fraternal Order of Police, International Association of Fire Chiefs, National Association of Police Organizations, National Volunteer Fire Council, Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, Congressional Fire Services Institute, and Sergeants Benevolent Association of New York City.
“We all have a duty to stand with the families of fire fighters who have sacrificed their lives in service to others. Occupational cancer is the number one killer of fire fighters, and the fact that the Public Safety Officers' Benefits program does not provide Line of Duty benefits to surviving families is unacceptable. The IAFF applauds Sens. Klobuchar and Cramer and Reps. Pascrell and Gimenez for introducing legislation that rights this wrong. 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 Edward Kelly, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
“For more than 20 years, exposure to the deadly toxins at Ground Zero following the 9/11 attacks has exacted a heavy price among our members, the NYPD, and first responders across this country,” said Vincent Vallelong, President of the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association. “The hard lessons of 9/11 have led to greater awareness of the health effects that police officers and other first responders face each day from job-related exposures to carcinogens encountered as they protect and serve their communities. The ‘Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act’ recognizes this selflessness in service and will ensure PSOB benefits for the families of those who succumb to job-related cancers.”
“Our law enforcement officers are in harm’s way each and every day. They are exposed not only to physical threats, but also potentially unseen threats from exposure to hazardous environments. Public safety officers who are exposed to known carcinogens and contract cancer that ends their lives or disables them should be considered to have sustained a personal injury in the line of duty for the purposes of the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program. This bill will ensure that officers and their families with exposure-related cancers from their service will be treated the same as any other line of duty death—it’s the right thing to do,” said Fraternal Order of Police National President Patrick Yoes.
“On behalf of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, I would like to express our steadfast support of the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act. Multiple studies have shown that firefighters have an increased risk of cancer compared to the general public. These men and women put their lives on the line every day to protect their communities, and as a result, are exposed to a variety of carcinogens. The federal government must recognize their sacrifice, and the families of public safety officers who die or are permanently disabled as a result of occupational cancer have access to benefits provided by the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program,” said Chief Ron Siarnicki, Executive Director of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation.
Gimenez has long led efforts to provide firefighters and other first responders with the benefits they deserve. Last year, Gimenez co led the Fire Grants and Safety Act, bipartisan legislation to reauthorize and increase federal resources for local fire departments across the nation.