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Congresswoman Lois Capps paid a visit to Hancock College’s Public Safety Training Complex in Lompoc on Friday, which provided an appropriate setting for the 24th Congressional District Representative to discuss her recently introduced Federal Firefighters Fairness Act.

Flanked by three members of the Vandenberg Air Force Base Fire Department, Capps stressed the importance of HR 1035, which calls for federal firefighters to receive the same disability benefits that are afforded to state and local firefighters.

“This is really just about fairness,” she said to the group of about 15 who gathered for the informal presentation.

The bipartisan bill, which Capps introduced to the House on Feb. 24, would make federal firefighters automatically eligible for “presumptive disability” benefits when they are injured, contract an illness or die due to the hazards of their job. While local and state firefighters essentially have this benefit already, federal firefighters face a tough standard in which they must definitively prove what exactly caused their illness or injury.

“(Federal firefighters) work hand in hand with our state and local firefighters to protect our community, wherever the need is,” Capps said. “They all pitch in together… While these brave men and women face the same dangers as other fire personnel, they are missing an important protection that is afforded their counterparts.”

John Crotty, a captain with the VAFB Fire Department and president of its union, said he was thankful for Capps’ efforts. Crotty noted that in just the past five years, two members of the VAFB unit were diagnosed with brain cancer. One of them has since died.

“So it is very important and critical to try to right this disparity,” he said.

“This will guarantee our brave firefighters who serve our community get the benefits they deserve,” he added.

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Capps said that not only is the current situation flawed in the way that it sets an “unobtainable” standard for federal firefighters to get benefits, “but it results in a disparity that leaves some of our firefighters sick and without care just because they chose federal service.”

Friday’s event came just two days after Capps announced that she'll retire at the end of this term. The Democrat, who has represented the Central Coast in Congress since 1998, said she has tried to get similar bills passed for several years, but she noted that now that she has just two years left in office, she will work especially hard to get this one through.

“We’ll work to advance this bill in every opportunity we can find until it becomes law,” she said. “It’s not that I haven’t tried before, but sometimes persistence pays off.”

Willis Jacobson covers the city of Lompoc for Lee Central Coast Newspapers. Follow him on Twitter @WJacobsonLR.