Washington, DC- Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) urged Attorney General Eric Holder to immediately fix current rules which are preventing some permanently volunteer firefighters with a permanent disability and surviving families of deceased volunteer firefighters from receiving federal benefits. Currently, DOJ rules exclude firefighters and their families from benefits under the definition of “public safety officer” in the Public Safety Officer Benefits Act (PSOBA).
“Caring for these firefighters who are battling a disability or helping their family in the event of a tragic incident shouldn’t be a question of bureaucratic technicalities,” Senator Casey said. “It’s time for the Department of Justice to do the right thing and make sure these volunteer firefighters and their families have basic protections.”
Senator Casey’s letter was joined by Senator Blumenthal (D-CT). They are also sponsors of legislation, S.876, the Fire Police Fairness Act, and they previously wrote to the Bureau of Justice Assistance on this same issue link. The full text of Senator Casey’s letter can be seen below:
Dear Attorney General Holder:
On behalf of volunteer fire police personnel across the country, we write to call on you to direct changes to definitions within Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). These definitions currently exclude many fire police personnel from eligibility for benefits under the Public Safety Officer Benefits Act (PSOBA), denying their families critical financial support in the event that they die or become permanently disabled in the course of their official duties.
Fire police are volunteer public safety officers who assist law enforcement and fire departments in the field in a variety of critical assignments. These assignments, which are typically given to fully certified officers or firefighters in states that lack fire police positions, can include scene safety, equipment management, and traffic control. Although fire police may not be certified to arrest criminals or enter burning buildings, their emergency service responsibilities are vital and frequently dangerous – indeed, multiple fire police officers have made the ultimate sacrifice in the course of their duties.
According to the attached letter from the Bureau of Justice Assistance dated February 25, 2014, fire police are not eligible for benefits under the PSOBA’s current definition for ‘public safety officer’ contained in 28 CFR §32.3. As such, we request that for the July 1, 2014 edits to the CFR, the Justice Department propose the following definitional changes to this section:
1) That the definition of Suppression of fire be modified, so as to read:
Suppression of fire means extinguishment, physical prevention, or containment of fire, including on-site hazard evaluation and on-site hazard management.
2) That a definition for On-site hazard management be added, so as to read:
On-site hazard management means providing scene security or directing traffic in response to any fire drill, fire call, or other fire, rescue, or police emergency or at a planned special event and investigating and analyzing fire and explosion incidents.
Fire police across the country who are selflessly volunteering to help their communities in emergencies deserve not only our gratitude, but also our assurance that should they give their lives or become permanently disabled in the line of duty, their families will be financially provided for. We hope you share our sentiment and we thank you for your attention to this matter.
Robert P. Casey, Jr. Richard Blumenthal
United States Senator United States Senator