Washington, DC – Yesterday, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ranking Member of the Committee of Energy and Natural Resources, and Senator Tom Udall, Ranking Member of the Appropritaions Subcomitte on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, introduced the COVID-19 as a Presumptive Disease in Wildland Firefighters Act to protect federal firefighters in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Yesterday I introduced a bill with Senator Udall to ensure that any firefighters that contract COVID-19 will be supported. Our bill simply does two things. First, it requires all firefighters to be tested for COVID before coming on to work this fire season. Second, because of the unique living and working conditions that wildland firefighters undertake, if a firefighter contracts COVID-19 during the fire season, they will be presumed to have contracted it in the course of their job duties, ensuring their eligibility for workers’ compensation coverage. We have heard that firefighters are worried about whether they will be adequately covered should they fall ill. Our bill ensures that firefighters can have one less thing to worry about as they go about doing their jobs,” Ranking Member Manchin said.
The legislation addresses concerns about the applicability of workman’s compensation coverage in the event a firefighter contracts COVID-19. If a firefighter does contract COVID-19 while serving this fire season, there would be a presumption that it was contracted in the line of duty. Quickening the workman’s comp process could significantly help alleviate existing concerns among the firefighting workforce and ensure members of the public and their livelihoods remain protected.
"Wildland firefighters face inherent health hazards and safety risks in the normal course of their duties, but the highly contagious COVID-19 virus poses new dangers to firefighter safety. Crews must know that they will be supported with full medical care and workman's compensation if they or one of their crewmembers get the virus and are unable to work due to illness or compulsory quarantine. Without this financial support guaranteed, firefighters may not be willing to assume the health and income risks to themselves and their families, and America risks depleting the federal firefighting workforce at the time the country needs it the most," said Timothy Ingalsbee, executive director of Firefighters United for Safety, Ethics, and Ecology (FUSEE).
“The 2020 Wildfire season is upon us; only this year it's different. It is essential for the Senate and the House to recognize the importance of the COVID-19 issue to wildland firefighters and the impacts it poses to our communities. We need to help these people who take care of our country's natural resources. We appreciate the Senators introducing this bill in order to address this important issue.” said Burk Minor, Director of the Wildland Firefighter Foundation.
To view the legislation in full, please click here.