Bill passes to allow injured firefighters to remain in enhanced retirement system

Lightning near the King Fire, Yosemite NP
Lightning near the King Fire, Yosemite NP, June 30, 2022. Photo by Jessica Lane @wilderjess_views.

Late Thursday night just before beginning their state work period the Senate passed a bill that will allow injured or disabled federal firefighters to remain in a 6C enhanced retirement position. They will continue receiving federal retirement benefits in the same manner as though they had not been disabled.

H.R.521, the First Responder Fair RETIRE Act, had already been passed by the House so its next step is the desk of the President.

Currently, federal law enforcement officers, firefighters, nuclear material couriers, and others are enrolled in and pay into a system whereby they may retire at the age of 57 or after 20 years of service. After all, “These are by definition high risk jobs,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.).

Connolly, a former county supervisor, explained that federal first responders are qualified under the law creating enhanced retirement system for an annuity after serving 20 years, but their annuity amount is calculated at a higher rate than other federal employees, recognizing the risks they take. “Unfortunately, not all federal first responders can complete those 20 years of service,” she added.

On the House floor during a short debate, Connolly described the experience of a smokejumper who parachuted out of a plane in 1985 and landed in a tree, was dropped 80 feet and broke his back in five places: “He died twice before he could be revived and evacuated,” Connolly noted. Ten years into his career, the firefighter chose to work in another position “but the reward for his bravery and his injury and service was his removal from the retirement system.”

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

10 thoughts on “Bill passes to allow injured firefighters to remain in enhanced retirement system”

  1. Thanks to the OG Bob Beckley. What a badass to stay on this 25 years after he lost his retirement due to a severe injury on the job.

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  2. This is an amazing and very much needed action! Everyone who finds themselves on the injury or medical retirement carnival ride (that we call OWCP, OPM, SSA and/or the FERS medical retirement process) are put through hell AND an unimaginable amount of Agency created trauma and stress. Hopefully this will end all of that bureaucratic un-nicery! Does anyone know if this action would also apply to FERS firefighters who’ve meet all 6c FERS FF time requirement in primary firefighter positions and also had to take the Immediate medical retirement option while in a secondary fire position? I know firefighters who’ve had to do this and in doing so OPM takes away their Social Security Supplement (even for those who don’t qualify or take Social Security payments) AND OPM also reduces their monthly annuity amount until age 62 when it gets a final recomputation?

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  3. WOW!! This is long overdue, great news!! To those of you who have suffered this injustice; your voice, your stories, and advocating on your own behalf with elected officials and our wildland fire agencies to change the laws and policy through ‘An Act of Congress’ is bearing fruit! This proves that our collective voices are a very powerful, unstoppable force of change. Thank you Bill for reporting on this huge win!!

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  4. I wonder if presumptive occupational disease is included. I am 2 years shy of 20 in fire and only 40 years old. I developed non hodgkin’s lymphoma a few years ago and I am worried about current and future exposure. I am healthy enough to continue working and would like to switch careers within the agency, but I don’t want to lose my fire retirement.

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    1. After reading through the version 4 bill sent to the senate a couple thoughts:

      Thanks to Bob Beckley and his relentless work on bringing this to the attention of the Legislature. Decades of work and a very tragic injury that he incurred. His story can be found here: https://foresthistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Beckley-Robert.pdf page 5

      “(ii) the term ‘covered position’ means a position as a law enforcement officer, customs and border protection officer, firefighter, air traffic controller, nuclear materials courier, member of the Capitol Police, or member of the Supreme Court Police.“

      CFR Title 5 831.902 defines “Firefighter” as: “…an employee, whose duties are primarily to perform work directly connected with the control and extinguishment of fires or the maintenance and use of firefighting apparatus and equipment. Also included in this definition is an employee engaged in this activity who is transferred to a supervisory or administrative position. (See 5 U.S.C. 8331(21).) An employee whose primary duties are the performance of routine fire prevention inspection is excluded from this definition. “

      Are Forestry or Range Technicians technically Firefighters with regards to HR 521?

      “(C) Subparagraph (B) shall only apply if the affected employee transitions to a position described in subparagraph (A)(i)(IV) without a break in service exceeding 3 days.“

      That is how it may be if it passes the Senate. So hang in there and read Beckley’s story there are very concerning apparent acts of reprisal and retaliation from the good ‘ol’ FS from the 70s – 80s. Guess some things don’t change much.

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