WASHINGTON, DC — According to the International Association of Fire Fighters, more than 100 fire fighters die in the line of duty each year, while tens of thousands of additional fire fighters sustain work-related injuries. Today, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) introduced legislation that would promote compliance with consensus safety standards to reduce the number of avoidable fatalities among fire fighters. While the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) and other groups have developed industry safety standards, they are voluntary in nature and often ignored by fire departments. Brown’s bill would encourage the adoption of national consensus fire fighter safety standards and promote fire department compliance with such standards.
“We shouldn’t have to think twice about bolstering the safety of our fire fighters,” Brown said. “Our first responders put their lives at risk daily across Ohio. We should take this opportunity to prevent fire fighter injury and death.”
Brown’s legislation, the Firefighter Fatality Reduction Act, would require the Department of Homeland Security to determine the rate of fire department compliance with standards for safe operations, staffing, training and fitness among career, volunteer, and combination fire departments. It would create a task force to explore the adoption of safety standards by fire departments and provide recommendations to the Congress, states, and localities on how to increase fire department compliance with safety standards. This bill would not mandate federal oversight of local fire departments, but instead would explore how the federal government could best promote fire fighter safety standards and assist fire departments with compliance.
Brown is also the sponsor of the Fire Fighter Higher Education Incentive Act of 2007 which would help federal, state, city, and county fire districts recruit highly educated fire fighters by forgiving student loans taken out by firefighters under the federal Perkins Loan program. Given the high costs of college, many fire fighters struggle to afford higher education. However, fire fighter responsibilities have become complex and dependent on advanced technology. All employees in fire protection would be eligible for the benefit, including fire fighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMT), rescue workers, ambulance personnel, and hazardous materials workers. Under current law, Perkins debt for teachers, nurses, military, and law enforcement officers can be forgiven.
“Loan forgiveness is both well deserved and an effective recruitment tool,” Brown said. “America’s fire fighters literally put their lives on the line for us. The least we can do is give them access to the same benefits as other first responders.”