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Pascrell, Klobuchar, Cramer, Giménez Introduce First Responder Cancer Benefits Bill

Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act will ensure first responders and their families receive federal benefits for occupational cancer

U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09), the co-chairman of the House Fire Services Caucus and House Law Enforcement Caucus, joined U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and Rep. Carlos Giménez (R-FL-28) in introducing H.R. 1719, the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act (Honor Act), legislation to ensure fire fighters, police, and EMS personnel who die or become disabled due to occupational cancer receive benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program. U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01) and Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA-05) joined as original cosponsors. On March 6, 2023, President Joe Biden endorsed the Honor Act and called on Congress to get the bill to his desk.

First responders face a significantly higher risk of developing cancer due to exposure to carcinogens encountered in the line of duty. The connection between occupational cancer and firefighting is well-established. Smoke from the average house fire contains more than 140 hazardous chemicals, including carcinogens like arsenic and benzene.

Last year, cancer was the leading cause of death among fire fighters, accounting for 74% of line of duty deaths according to the International Association of Fire Fighters. A recent International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) study reclassified the occupation of firefighting itself to its highest hazard category: Group 1 or “carcinogenic to humans.” In 2015, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published a multi-year study which found that fire fighters are 9% more likely to develop cancer and 14% more likely to die from cancer relative to the general population.

Law enforcement officers also encounter chemical hazards, heat, and radiation connected to cancer in the line of duty. The elevated rate of cancer among our heroic World Trade Center responders is well documented. Nearly 300 law enforcement officers have died from 9/11 related illnesses with the majority dying due to cancer, but these risks extend to officers across the nation.  In 2011, the State University of Buffalo and NIOSH published research finding elevated incidence of brain cancer and Hodgkin's lymphoma among law enforcement officers relative to the general population. The research cited several other studies that have demonstrated an increased risk of mortality among police due to multiple forms of cancer.

While medical conditions like heart attacks, strokes, and COVID-19 are presumed to be line of duty deaths for the purposes of PSOB, occupational cancer is not.

“Day in and day out, our fire and police heroes perform some of the hardest jobs in the world with bravery,” said Rep. Pascrell, who has led the Fire Services and Law Enforcement Caucuses for years. “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 face to keep us safe.”

“Our firefighters put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe, often exposing themselves 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 Senator 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 Senator Cramer. “Our bill expands benefits to include occupationally-connected cancers to care for those who protect our communities.”

“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,” Rep. 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.”

“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 Reps. Pascrell and Gimenez and Sens. Klobuchar and Cramer 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 (IAFF).

“Firefighters put their lives on the line every single day. With cancer now the leading cause of death among these brave men and women, it’s time for the federal government to step up and recognize this sacrifice.  It’s been nearly three years since we lost FMBA’s own Jerry Behnke to cancer. We will never forget Jerry’s decades of tireless service to Paterson and his unwavering dedication to improving the lives and safety of his fellow firefighters. Congressman Bill Pascrell has been a champion in Washington for our firefighters and first responders. Time and time again, he has had our backs and secured lifesaving funding, resources, and benefits for our fire heroes. The FMBA is proud to support the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act to ensure firefighters who die from occupational cancer receive the federal support they’re owed. We look forward to working with Congressman Pascrell to advance this crucial legislation,” said Ed Donnelly, President of the New Jersey Firefighters Mutual Benevolent Association.

“I thank Representatives Pascrell and Giménez for their leadership on this legislation,” said Chief Donna M. Black, EFO, CFO, the President and Board Chair of the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC). “It is important to recognize the families of public safety officers that were exposed to carcinogens in the line of duty and gave their lives in service to their communities.”

“Too often battles with occupational related cancer leave first responders permanently disabled or leave their survivors financially struggling after their passing. I applaud Representatives Pascrell, Giménez, Fitzpatrick and Scanlon for introducing the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act of 2023. This important legislation will provide much needed support to first responders and their families as they face the aftermath of occupational cancer by providing a presumption for certain exposure-related cancers under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program,” said Steve Hirsch, Chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC).

“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 (NFFF). 

"Due to the hazardous nature of their jobs, firefighters in the United States are at risk for a number of diseases, including various forms of cancer. It is vital that firefighters who are severely impacted by these devastating health conditions receive proper benefits and compensation through the Public Safety Officers' Benefits (PSOB) program," said Bill Webb,  Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute. "CFSI has long been an advocate for issues benefiting firefighter health and wellness. CFSI thanks Representative Pascrell and Representative Giménez for their leadership to ensure that our nation’s firefighters can receive the benefits they need and deserve when their health is on the line."

“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 Patrick Yoes, National President of the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP).

“Our nation’s public safety officers put their lives at risk every day.  Sometimes unnoticed are the officers pulling families from burning cars or saving children from house fires or those responding to chemical fires or train wrecks like the one in East Palestine, Ohio.  These acts of heroism often have long-term consequences for the officers, including exposure-related cancers. The Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act recognizes these as line-of-duty injuries under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program and ensures that officers suffering from these cancers and their families get the benefits they have earned.  We stand with Representatives Pascrell, Gimenez, Fitzpatrick, and Scanlon in support of this bill and thank them for championing this important issue,” said Bill Johnson, Executive Director of the National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO).

“Law enforcement face a variety of risks of the job. While most are apparent–such as an active threat or a lethal weapon–many are not uncoverable until years later. Given the distance in time between a potential carcinogenic exposure and cancer development, it can be difficult to attribute an officer’s medical condition to a specific on-the-job incident. As a result, the current Public Safety Officer Benefits system denies law enforcement earned benefits simply because science has not caught up with this reality. We applaud Representative Pascrell truly honoring our fallen heroes with a presumption that certain cancers developed on duty,” said Larry Cosme, President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association.

“Over the past twenty years, we have seen firsthand the devasting toll that cancer has taken among the heroes who responded to the 9/11 attacks,” said President Vincent Vallelong of the NYPD Sergeants Benevolent Association. “The ongoing health crisis among 9/11 responders has also brought to light other serious and long-term health risks that public safety officers across this country face from job-related exposures to known carcinogens. That is why the SBA is proud to join with Rep. Pascrell in advocating for swift passage of the ‘Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act’ to ensure PSOB benefits for the families of those who succumb to job-related cancers.”

Pascrell led efforts in Washington create a firefighter cancer registry. In July 2018, his Firefighter Cancer Registry Act was signed into law, creating a national cancer registry for firefighters to monitor and study the relationship between career-long exposure to dangerous fumes and toxins and the incidence of cancer in firefighters so to develop better protective gear and prevention techniques.

Pascrell has also spearheaded efforts to improve the PSOB program. In November 2021, his Protecting America’s First Responders Act was signed into law, which closed loopholes excluding some first responders from their owed benefits, expedited the application process, and expanded eligibility for disability benefits. This bill also included a Pascrell-championed provision to continue providing presumptive benefits to fallen first responders who contract COVID-19.  

The Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act is endorsed by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation (NFFF), Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI), Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), and Sergeants Benevolent Association of the NYPD (SBA).  

A section-by-section breakdown of the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act is available here. A one-page summary is available here.

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