Bills Relating to PSOB Benefits and Volunteers’ Usage of UAS Advance

On May 16 two important pieces of legislation relevant to the volunteer fire service advanced through Congress. The first is the 2024 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization bill (P.L. 118-63), which was signed into law. The second is S. 930, the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act, which passed the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Section 926 of P.L. 118-63 will make it easier for volunteer fire departments to use tethered drones. In 2018, Congress passed legislation that directed the FAA to permit the use of public actively tethered unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) under certain conditions without obtaining a certificate of waiver or authorization under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107), allowing for a streamlined authorization process for emergency use.

The FAA subsequently determined that the word “public” in this legislation only applies to aircraft used by federal, state, or local governments, or a political subdivision, excluding numerous public safety entities that rely on actively tethered UAS to carry out life-saving operations — like volunteer fire departments. Section 926 of P.L. 118-63 expands the definition of public to include public safety entities. Additionally, this bill would allow public safety entities to use actively tethered UAS in zero-grid spaces when responding to emergencies.

S. 930, the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act, would expand access to Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB) for the families of first responders, including firefighters, who pass away from cancer caused by carcinogenic exposure during their service. This bill would also extend disability benefits in cases where first responders become permanently and totally disabled due to cancer. Currently, first responders are only POSB eligible for physical injuries sustained in the line-of-duty, or for deaths from duty-related heart attacks, strokes, suicides, mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, and 9/11 related illnesses.

Upon S. 930’s introduction, National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) Chair Steve Hirsch said, “Too often battles with occupational related cancer leave first responders permanently disabled or leave their survivors financially struggling after their passing. I applaud Senator Klobuchar and Senator Cramer for introducing the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act of 2023. This important legislation will provide much needed support to first responders and their families as they face the aftermath of occupational cancer by providing a presumption for certain exposure-related cancers under the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits program.”

Now that the Honoring Our Fallen Heroes Act has passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, the NVFC will continue to advocate for this legislation’s further advancement through the full Senate and House of Representatives.