More than a dozen of the most destructive wildfires in California state history have occurred since 2015. And as we saw in 2020, wildfire season is becoming a year-round risk.
Public safety officers are the first ones to put themselves in harm’s way to protect residents from these ever-present threats. Injuries sustained from fires may range from severe burns to smoke inhalation, and they may prevent you from returning to work. The impact may be immediate or it may take a longer period for you to realize the extent of the injury.
Below are four tips for public safety officers filing injury claims caused by burns or smoke.
1. Document the incident. Once you are out of harm’s way, make a note of everything that transpired. Find a quiet space, pick up any type of digital recorder and capture (and save) your own account of what happened; you can transcribe it later. You will need this information for any type of injury claim you file.
Start with the basics like time, date and location. Then go deeper and also detail the surrounding circumstances, such as the bystanders, why you felt compelled to act, preparation measures, what you wore and of course, how the injury occurred. Also address: Were you hurt on your way in or out of a burning home? Was there a blast several feet away that still reached you? What were the orders from the chief or dispatch?
Keep a regular journal of your health after a major incident or direct exposure to fire or smoke. If you begin to feel affected after-the-fact, there may be a lingering injury you need to address in order to return to work at full capacity.
2. Review your employment contract. Never assume that just because you were injured on the job that you will instantly qualify for workers’ compensation benefits. If you were disobeying orders from your chief or superiors and unnecessarily put yourself in harm’s way, the claims process may be challenging. Ask your human resources or hiring manager for a copy of your employment contract and request that they highlight the agency’s policy regarding injuries.
3. Know where your jurisdiction ends. Recent national incidents have involved off-duty firefighters operating outside their home jurisdiction. This has led to injuries and fatalities.
There may be a clause in your employment contract that addresses volunteer or off-duty actions. Your local jurisdiction must advise its volunteers and career personnel as to whether “Good Samaritan” and “Deputized Bystander”-type of coverage is provided under an Accident and Sickness Policy. Ahead of a catastrophic incident like a wildfire, you may suggest to your chief and governing body to hold an official meeting that clearly defines the policies and procedures for acting off-duty.
Remember that no guarantee exists that a member or member’s family will be awarded any benefits due to a member’s off-duty actions.
4. Contact a lawyer. Following these recommendations and contacting a lawyer will put you in a better position to receive appropriate benefits. Accidents and injuries are expected during major catastrophes, but federal and state-based disability insurance plans set high standards for claiming disability benefits.
That is why PeacockLaw, a.p.c. typically files these injury claims within 48 hours of accepting each case. We exclusively represent public safety officers and are well-versed in your claims process. We lead the discussion and the negotiations, which often results in faster and larger insurance coverage payouts.
If you are a public safety officer and were injured or fell ill on the job, attorney Mark Peacock can help you navigate the entire process. Contact us today.