Workers’ compensation for firefighters

Firefighters in Sacramento County and throughout California work around the clock to provide help to people in need, whether it is in fire suppression, rescue and prevention efforts, or emergency medical services. The work is physically, emotionally and psychologically challenging, and exhausted firefighters can suffer from many work-related injuries that require medical attention.

When filing a claim for an injury while acting in the line of duty, some firefighters may not realize the unique benefits that they are eligible to receive that also include disability or death benefits. If you have been injured while on duty, it is important to know how the workers’ compensation system works and what it will cover, especially if you are unable to return to work immediately.

Injuries that firefighters face when on duty

According to estimates from the National Fire Protection Administration (NFPA), in 2017, there were 1,056,200 firefighters in the United States. In that year, many of those who sustained injuries were on the fireground, while the remaining injured firefighters were on-duty or part of training incidents. The most common types of strains that firefighters sustained were:

  • Overexertion
  • Strains
  • Sprains
  • Muscular injuries

These injuries happened most often from falls, jumps, slips, or overexertion from heavy lifting. The dangers that put firefighters at risk happen when they are:

  • In direct contact with fire, excessive heat, or hazardous chemicals
  • Engaged in repetitive lifting, especially heavy lifting
  • Responding to emergencies

Interestingly enough, heat and fire-related injuries account for less than 10% of all injuries that firefighters experience, as improvements from training, technology and personal protective equipment have dramatically reduced these types of injuries.

Workers’ compensation in California

California firefighters are eligible for special benefits under workers’ compensation that cover not only medical and disability benefits, but other compensation as well. Under Labor Code section 4850, a city, county, or district firefighter who is unable to work due to a work-related injury may receive their full salary for up to a year.

Most other types of work will provide temporary disability benefits, which are limited to two-thirds salary, and caps on permanent disability benefits. It is important to note that a firefighter cannot receive both 4850 and disability benefits at the same time, however, they can receive a combination of full salary and temporary disability benefits that will total two years of aggregate benefits.