Firefighters in Florida may soon gain more legal protections under a bill passed unanimously by the House on Thursday.
Like police officers, firefighters are guaranteed a handful of rights as part of their employment, such as the presence of a union representative during an investigation. But unlike cops, firefighters operate without protections against a situation known as an informal investigation.
In those cases, a firefighter may be asked to recall facts or otherwise share work-related details, without knowing of a relevant complaint or inquiry.
The proposal (HB 31) — sponsored by Coral Gables Republican Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera — would address the loophole and align the Firefighters’ Bill of Rights more closely with the Police Bill of Rights.
“Every person in their job should have the right to protections,” said Wellington Democratic Rep. Matt Willhite, a firefighter and paramedic.
The bill, which now awaits Senate consideration, is among the few proposals to clear the chamber without a single down vote.
The proposal, proponents including the Florida Professional Firefighters Association assert, would ensure a level playing field and prevent potential abuses of power by fire chiefs.
“We’re accessing people’s houses, taking them at their most vulnerable state,” Willhite said. “We’re entering buildings unrestricted (and) doing so many different things. A person, if accused, should have the right to have their day in court.”
Boynton Beach Democratic Rep. Joe Casello — a military veteran and former firefighter — described the protections as well deserved. He is among the bill’s many co-sponsors.
“I understand what these men and women go through each and every day,” Casello said. “They put it all on the line to keep us safe. This bill expanding the Firefighters’ Bill of Rights is an important step in the right direction to make sure we are protecting those protect us.”
If signed into law, the bill would take effect in July. Sen. Ed Hooper, a former firefighter himself, is the companion sponsor (SB 370).