WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) 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. Bipartisan companion legislation in the House of Representatives is led by Representative Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) and Rep. Carlos Gimenez (R-FL).

The legislation is being introduced in honor of Michael Paidar, a Maple Grove and St. Paul fire captain who died of an aggressive form of Acute Myeloid Leukemia on August 26, 2020. In 2021, after strong advocacy from the Paidar family, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety awarded line-of-duty benefits to Captain Paidar’s widow Julie, the first time that a firefighter’s family had received benefits for cancer incurred in the line-of-duty through Minnesota’s state public safety benefits program. The Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act would ensure that firefighters across the country are eligible to receive similar benefits under the federal PSOB program. 

“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.”

“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.”

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.

“I’m grateful to Senators Klobuchar and Cramer for introducing the bipartisan Honoring our Fallen Heroes Act,” said Julie Paidar. “This bill will support first responders and their families who are faced with the consequences of the often dangerous work of keeping our communities safe. Mike absolutely loved being a firefighter paramedic and arrived early for each shift, just so he could get in his daily workout and to prepare the medic rig for the day. Before he left home, however, he always made sure to kiss us goodbye and to say ‘I love you’.  Mike was dedicated to helping others and this legislation will honor his legacy by helping families receive PSOB benefits.”

“There are thousands of firefighters across the United States that are in the fight for their life battling cancers that they should never get and hundreds more receiving a diagnosis daily.  In 2022, 75% of firefighter Line of Duty Deaths (LODD) were due to occupational cancer,” said St. Paul International Association of Fire Fighters Local 21 President Mike Smith. “Saint Paul Firefighters IAFF Local 21 will always remember Captain Mike Paidar as a fit, healthy man, a loving father, doting husband and a courageous firefighter, who loved his job and went to work each day with a smile on his face to care for people that needed his help. Sadly, Mike died from his job related exposure to known carcinogens. The Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act makes it possible for us to preserve Mike's dignity and care for his family, just as he did for so many others during their time of need. This is what we want to be Mike's legacy.”  

“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.

“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 Senators Klobuchar and Cramer in support of this bill and thank them for championing this important issue,” said Bill Johnson, Executive Director, National Association of Police Organizations.

“Too often battles with occupational related cancer leave first responders permanently disabled or leave their survivors financially struggling after their passing. I applaud Senator Klobuchar and Senator Cramer 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, National Volunteer Fire Council’s Chairman

"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 Senator Klobuchar and Senator Cramer 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."

“The realities of modern medicine often make it difficult to attribute an officer’s medical condition to a specific on-the-job incident. Yet, federal law enforcement face carcinogenic exposure on the job often. This risk is particularly salient for federal law enforcement, who are our nation’s primary first responders when there is a large-scale chemical, radiological, or biological attack domestically. Unfortunately, the current Public Safety Officer Benefits (PSOB) system denies law enforcement earned benefits simply because science has not caught up with this reality. We applaud Senator Klobuchar introducing this bill to align the PSOB system with the realities of law enforcement operations and risks,” said FLEOA President Larry Cosme.

“I thank Senators Klobuchar and Cramer 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. “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.”

“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.  

Klobuchar has long led efforts to provide firefighters and other first responders with the benefits they deserve. She worked to pass the bipartisan Protecting America’s First Responders Act, which was signed into law in 2021. This legislation improves the PSOB program by allowing benefit amounts to be calculated based on the date of the award and account for cost of living increases.

In 2018, Klobuchar also co-led bipartisan legislation to create a national cancer registry for firefighters diagnosed with the deadly disease was signed into law. The Firefighter Cancer Registry Act calls on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to monitor and study the relationship between career-long exposure to dangerous fumes and toxins and the incidence of cancer in fire fighters.