2024 Alfred K. Whitehead Legislative Conference focuses on fire service legislation and public safety

March 11, 2024

General session overview

The 2024 Alfred K. Whitehead Legislative Conference, attended by a diverse group of political figures including Vice President Kamala Harris, has become a platform for discussing vital public safety and fire service issues.

More than 750 union members headed for Washington, D.C., lobbying for legislation crucial to the fire service and the well-being of International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) members.

General President Edward Kelly emphasized the necessity of such advocacy: “We need to be here,” he stated.

“This IAFF needs to be fighting and advocating to improve the lives of our members, our families, and our communities.”

Despite the challenges posed by legislative gridlock, with only 50 of the 12,000 bills introduced in Congress passing, Kelly underlined the urgency of these issues, deeming them as matters of life and death.

The IAFF’s lobbying efforts are focused on several key bills, including the Fire Grants and Safety Act, the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act, the PFAS Alternatives Act, the Public Safety Free Speech Act, and the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act.

Key legislative priorities and support

Kelly urged IAFF members to actively engage with Congress, emphasizing the need for reauthorization of the AFG and SAFER grant programs. Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD), known for securing AFG and SAFER grants for his constituents, shared his commitment to these efforts: “We have a lot to fight for, starting with the SAFER Act in the House of Representatives. We’re going to get that done.”

U.S. Fire Administrator Dr. Lori Moore-Merrell highlighted the importance of reauthorizing the USFA to maintain a strong voice in the federal government.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) echoed the urgency of passing the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act, inspired by the story of Mike Paidar, a Local 21 member from Saint Paul, MN, who succumbed to occupational cancers.

Michigan Democrat Debbie Dingell, advocating for the PFAS Alternatives Act, emphasized the need to remove carcinogenic chemicals from fire fighter gear.

Additional remarks and endorsements

Acting Labor Secretary Julie Su praised the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts in supporting fire fighters, particularly against cancer.

She highlighted the establishment of a special workers’ compensation claims unit, which has aided over 4,000 fire fighters.

Su also mentioned the Federal Fire Fighters Fairness Act, which has significantly improved the approval rate of claims for sick federal fire fighters.

Republican Representative Carlos Gimenez, a retired member of Miami Local 587, expressed support for repealing the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and the Government Pension Offset (GPO), advocating for fair Social Security benefits for retired first responders.

Representative Val Hoyle (D-OR) and Senators Brian Schatz (D-HI) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) also offered their support for various IAFF legislative priorities.

FSJA Comment

The 2024 Alfred K. Whitehead Legislative Conference highlights a critical juncture for fire service professionals and public safety in the United States.

The diverse representation at the conference, from both political parties and various levels of government, underscores the broad support for fire service-related issues.

The prioritized legislation, if passed, promises to make significant strides in enhancing the safety and well-being of fire fighters and emergency medical workers.

This concerted effort reflects an understanding of the unique challenges faced by those in the fire service, particularly regarding health risks and working conditions.

The involvement of high-profile politicians and union leaders signifies an acknowledgment of the essential role that fire fighters play in our communities and an effort to support them through effective legislation.

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