NEW JERSEY – U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Congressmen Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.-09) and Rob Menendez (D-N.J.-08) Thursday joined together with local and national fire leaders at the North Hudson Regional Fire and Rescue in West New York to discuss various congressional initiatives to support and protect fire professionals, including the Fire Grants and Safety Act (S .870) that would reauthorize FEMA’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant (AFG) program, the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant program, and the U.S. Fire Administration.
The bill is expected to be voted on in the Senate’s coming weeks in the Senate.
The members also highlighted the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act to 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.
“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 Sen. Menendez. “Equally important, Congress must reauthorize the AFG and SAFER grant programs as soon as we return 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.”
“Every day, thousands of firefighters suit up and put their lives on the line to keep our communities safe,” said Congressman Pascrell, 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. We spoke at North Hudson Regional where they continue to mourn the loss of Eduardo Diaz to cancer six years ago. And it’s been nearly three years since we lost Paterson Firefighter, and my good friend, Jerry Behnke to this terrible disease. 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.”
“Our firefighters and first responders selflessly put their communities ahead of themselves, often sacrificing their health and safety while doing so,” said Congressman Rob 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.
In February, Sens. Menendez and Booker (both D-N.J.) announced a combined total of $2,127,844.28 from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through its competitive SAFER program to assist three New Jersey fire departments with the hiring, retention and recruitment of firefighters. The AFG program was created in 2000 by the Firefighter Investment and Response Enhancement (FIRE) Act led by Rep. Pascrell and the SAFER program was established in 2005 by the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Resources (SAFER) Act co-led by Rep. Pascrell.
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.
On July 9, 2018, legislation sponsored by Rep. Pascrell and Sen. Menendez creating a firefighter cancer registry for the first time was signed into law. Their bill directed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to create a national cancer registry for firefighters to monitor and study the relationship between career-long exposure to dangerous fumes and toxins and the incidence of cancer in firefighters so to develop better protective gear and prevention techniques. Rep. Pascrell and Sen. Menendez first unveiled the Firefighter Cancer Registry Act in May 2016 during a news conference at Clifton, New Jersey Fire Station 5, where they were joined by dozens of firefighters, including retired Haddon Heights Fire Chief Gene Dannenfelster, who later lost his battle with cancer.
The Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act is endorsed by the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF), International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC), National Fallen Fire Fighters Foundation (NFFF), Congressional Fire Services Institute (CFSI), Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO), Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA), and Sergeants Benevolent Association of the NYPD (SBA).