Washington, DC- Today, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) announced that he has written a letter to the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance calling on the Administration to immediately fix current rules which are preventing some permanently disabled volunteer firefighters and surviving families of deceased volunteer firefighters from receiving federal benefits. Currently, DOJ rules only grant benefits for these permanently disabled first responders and their families when the volunteer firefighter is injured during ‘direct fire suppression.’ This means that a volunteer firefighter who loses their life or becomes permanently disabled while responding to an emergency may not receive the benefits they’ve rightly earned.
“Caring for a permanently disabled firefighter or helping their family in the event of a lost loved one 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, which would address the issue. The full text of Senator Casey’s letter can be seen below:
Ms. Denise E. O’Donnell
Bureau of Justice Assistance
U.S. Department of Justice
810 Seventh Street, N.W.
Washington, District of Columbia 20531
Dear Ms. O’Donnell,
We write regarding the eligibility of certain volunteer firefighters and their families to receive benefits under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act (PSOBA). It has come to our attention that fire police in Pennsylvania, Connecticut and elsewhere have been denied benefits under this program, an exception that appears at odds with congressional intent. We urge the Bureau to revise the regulations defining a firefighter in order to provide fire police with the same benefits provided to other first responders.
As you know, the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Act provides death and education benefits to survivors of fallen law enforcement officers, firefighters, and other first responders. It also provides critical support to fallen public safety officers who become permanently disabled due to injuries sustained in the line of duty. Whereas the 1976 law defined a firefighter as any individual serving in an officially recognized volunteer fire department, subsequent regulations required that eligible individuals engage in direct fire suppression. Fire Police officers may not directly put water on fires, but they play an invaluable role in responding to emergency calls, controlling traffic and managing the scene of an incident.
Like other public safety officers, fire police risk their lives as they work to make others safe, and these officers and their families deserve the peace of mind offered by the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program. We respectfully urge you to implement regulations clarifying that fire suppression activities can consist of support services, including but not limited to scene management activities and traffic control. Thank you for your consideration of this matter.
Robert P. Casey, Jr. Richard Blumenthal
United States Senator United States Senator