LOMPOC, Calif. - Firefighters who work for federal agencies including Vandenberg Air Force Base Fire Department do not have the same disability and workers compensation benefits as their colleagues in other state and local agencies.
They chose the Allan Hancock College Public Safety Academy in Lompoc Thursday afternoon to draw attention to the disparity in federal firefighter health benefits and the recent introduction of HR 1884 in Congress.
The AHC Public Safety Academy is where they train and develop future firefighters, law enforcement officers and other first responders for a career in public safety.
Vandenberg Air Force Base prides itself on its Fire Department and the professionalism and dedication of its firefighters when called to duty on and off base.
That was evident in the fast-moving Canyon Fire in September of last year that burned more than 12,000 acres on base and exposed VAFB firefighters, as well as their mutual aid colleagues from other agencies, to hazardous conditions including thick, black toxic smoke from burning brush, trees and buried ammunition that exploded underground.
Yet VAFB firefighters do not have the same disability benefits shared by their colleagues in other state and local agencies should they happen to fall sick or face something as devastating as cancer.
"We fight the same fires, we're exposed to the same hazards, the same toxins", says VAFB Fire Department Capt. Charlie Martinez, "we're just looking for equality for our federal guys."
HR 1884, or the Federal Firefighters Fairness Act, is a bill recently introduced in Congress by Central Coast Congressman Salud Carbajal which would extend disability and workers comp benefits to federal firefighters.
"These important benefits that they are entitled to and that we give to everyone else", Carbajal told those in attendance during his brief visit to the AHC Public Safety Academy in Lompoc.
"That's where our fight is for the federal firefighter", says Capt. Martinez who also represents the VAFB firefighters union, "that's what makes it difficult and why we've been working for over 20 years just to try and get this basic benefit for our firefighters that put their lives on the line every day."
HR 1884 has just been introduced into the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.