Firefighters are arguably everyone’s heroes. They brave situations most of us can only imagine: running into burning buildings and employing extraordinary measures to rescue those trapped inside. They endure searing heat, smoke and soot on a regular basis in order to ensure that those they have sworn to protect are safe.
It’s a dangerous job. According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 59,000 firefighters sustained on-the-job injuries in 2017. Many of these (29 percent) were overexertion injuries such as strains and sprains. But nearly 8,000 others involved exposures to infectious diseases such as meningitis, hepatitis and HIV. Another 44,500 involved exposures to hazardous materials such as asbestos, other toxins and even radioactivity. These exposures most likely account for the high rate of cancer in firefighters across the United States.
In fact, in some states, laws exist that define “presumptive cancers” — cancers that are presumed to be caused by on-the-job exposures to toxins or other chemicals. Nonetheless, getting coverage through workers compensation insurance often proves to be a monumental task. In Texas, for example, which has had such a law on the books since 2005, over the last six years, nine out of 10 firefighters with cancer had their workers compensation claims denied.
High Rates of PTSD
In addition to physical injuries and toxic exposures, first responders have very high rates of post-traumatic stress. According to the Firefighters Behavioral Health Alliance, about 30 percent of the nation’s 1.3 million professional and volunteer firefighters have symptoms of PTSD. Further, about 132 of these brave men and women commit suicide every year, double the number of firefighters who are killed on the job.
Nonetheless, as of 2018, only 32 states had enacted legislation allowing firefighters to collect workers compensation for PTSD.
New York Lags Behind
That said, some of the country’s most progressive states have as yet failed to take action to protect injured firefighters, most notably New York. For example, despite employing over 11,000 firefighters, EMTs and paramedics, the New York City Fire Department does not offer workers compensation to its employees. Instead, first responders are covered by General Municipal Law 205a, which allows an injured city employee to sue their employer or any other party for a work-related injury if the injury was caused by negligence or failure of that person to follow a statute, regulation or rule. So, for example, a firefighter has the right to sue a drunk driver for injuries sustained in a traffic accident the drunk driver caused.
Still, lawsuits are expensive and time-consuming. Injured firefighters can incur thousands of dollars in medical expenses and lose months of wages while awaiting the resolution of a court case. Although their ultimate recovery might be larger than a workers compensation claim, the wait can spell financial ruin for the injured person and their family.
It seems to me we should be doing a better job of protecting those who protect us.
About the Carmoon Group
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