Firefighters are some of the most selfless individuals in our society. They put their lives on the line every day to save others, and as a result, they are often exposed to high levels of physical and emotional stress. While firefighters are often celebrated for their bravery and heroism, they face many challenges, including the risk of injury and death, as well as the long-term effects of exposure to smoke and toxins.
In recognition of these challenges, many governments have expanded the benefits available to firefighters. These benefits provide crucial support to firefighters and their families, ensuring that they receive the care and assistance they need.
On Thursday at the headquarters of the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue Department, Congressman Rob Menendez (D-NJ-08), Congressman Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ-09),and U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) appeared together with local and national fire leaders to discuss the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act. The legislation will provide federal benefits for occupational cancer under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) program to firefighters, first responders, and their families. On March 6, 2023, President Joe Biden endorsed the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act and called on Congress to get the bill to his desk.
One of the most significant benefits available to firefighters is workers’ compensation. This is a type of insurance that provides financial support to employees who are injured or become ill as a result of their work. Firefighters are at high risk of injury, and workers’ compensation provides them with peace of mind, knowing that they will be supported if they are injured while on duty.
Another benefit available to firefighters is disability insurance. This provides financial support to firefighters who are unable to work due to a disability. Disability insurance ensures that firefighters can continue to support themselves and their families even if they are no longer able to work.
“Our firefighters and first responders selflessly put their communities ahead of themselves, often sacrificing their health and safety while doing so,” said Congressman Menendez. “That is why I am proud to co-sponsor the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act, which would finally provide federal death and disability benefits to men and women who are stricken by cancer as a result of line-of-duty exposures. I want to thank Congressman Pascrell for his leadership on this issue and I look forward to working with him to pass this important legislation.”
“Every day, thousands of firefighters suit up and put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe,” said Congressman Pascrell, the longtime co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus. “These brave men and women encounter countless dangers on the job, including exposure to deadly carcinogens. Cancer is now the leading cause of death among firefighters, and the federal government must have their backs. I introduced the Honoring our Fallen Heroes Act to guarantee that first responders and their families get occupational cancer benefits without delay or red tape. Nothing less is acceptable.”
“The Honoring our Fallen Heroes Act, would strengthen a crucial safety net that first responders and their families rely on and I look forward to working with colleagues to get this bipartisan common-sense measure passed swiftly in the Senate,” said Senator Menendez. “Equally importantly, Congress must reauthorize the AFG and SAFER grant programs as soon as we return to session next week. These two programs are cornerstones of our effort to recruit and retain firefighters in New Jersey, and have distributed more than $200 million to communities throughout the Garden State since 2015.”
In addition to these benefits, many governments offer retirement benefits to firefighters. These benefits recognize the unique challenges faced by firefighters and ensure that they can retire with dignity and financial security. Retirement benefits often include a pension plan, which provides firefighters with a steady stream of income after they retire.
Other benefits available to firefighters may include access to counseling services and mental health support. Firefighters are exposed to a wide range of traumatic experiences, and it is essential that they have access to the support they need to cope with these experiences. Counseling and mental health support can help firefighters manage the emotional toll of their work and maintain their mental well-being.
Overall, the expanded benefits available to firefighters reflect the significant contributions that they make to our society. These benefits provide crucial support to firefighters and their families, ensuring that they receive the care and assistance they need. As such, it is essential that governments continue to invest in these benefits and support our firefighters in every way possible.
The PSOB program provides a one-time federal death and disability benefit payment of $422,035 to first responders who die or are permanently disabled in the line of duty and monthly education assistance of $1,401 for their children or spouse. 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.
In 2015, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) published a multi-year study, which found that firefighters are 9% more likely to develop cancer and 14% more likely to die from cancer relative to the general population. Last year, cancer was the leading cause of death among firefighters, accounting for 74% of line-of-duty deaths according to the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF).