What Happens When Volunteer Firefighters are Hurt on the Job?
With certainty, there’s no argument. Fighting fires are noble work. After all, there’s something to be said about individuals brave enough to run into a building when everyone else is running out. In the case of volunteer firefighters, they do so without pay. So, what happens when volunteer firefighters are hurt on the job?
First of all, there’s no dispute that volunteer firefighters are subject to the same types of injuries or diseases suffered by those employed as career firefighters. More than likely, you already know the associated risks. In both cases, workers’ compensation benefits may be critical to survival. But, how does this work when you receive no money for essentially putting your life on the line?
Workers’ Compensation for Volunteer Firefighters
All things considered, medical treatment is primary when a firefighter is injured on the job. One study says just an emergency room visit can be as high as $3,000. Meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine how the price tag increases for admission to a burn unit.
The good news is that all firefighters are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. This is true for those who work for local municipalities or fight forest fires. Other than emergency treatment, firefighters’ medical treatment must come from authorized providers.
You might be perplexed about the idea of recouping lost wages as a volunteer firefighter. After all, why you should receive temporary disability from a job where you received no pay? According to NJSA 34:15-43, volunteer firefighters, first aid and rescue workers are all entitled to the benefits available for paid employees. Of course, claims must be related to line of duty accidents.
The rate of pay will be based on the maximum weekly rate available to all injured workers. For an accident that occurs in 2018, the rate is $908 per week. An authorized doctor would need to order the accident victim to be out of work for more than seven days.
Meanwhile, there is a caveat. The voluntary firefighter must also show proof of paid employment from another source. A recent New Jersey case actually discussed this issue. In this matter, the unpaid firefighter suffered orthopedic injuries while responding to a multi-alarm fire call. At the time, the injury victim did not have a paying job of any type.
Although the municipality agreed to pay medical bills for most of the voluntary firefighter’s injuries, they disputed that a back problem was related. This was not an issue when the case was brought to the New Jersey Appellate Division. Instead, the town disagreed that the unpaid firefighter should be paid temporary disability benefits.
The municipality’s contention was not based on the voluntary status of the injured worker, or that the injuries were work-related. Essentially, the claim was that the firefighter was not gainfully employed outside her volunteer services. Therefore, there were no wages lost. The court concluded that there must be a proof of lost wages to justify entitlement to temporary disability benefits.
Other Line of Duty Benefits
Although this publication is a few years old, it provides critical information for both voluntary and career firefighters. A firefighter’s death can result in benefits to his dependents.
In the meantime, workers’ compensation claims include awards for both permanent partial disability and permanent total disability. An experienced workers’ compensation attorney can review the incident and file the necessary papers to pursue a claim.