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Workers’ Compensation for First Responders

  • Dave Brown, Esquire
  • 04/13/2020

“911, state your emergency,” answers the 911 operator in a calm but serious tone. After the frantic caller describes the emergency — their home has been broken into, their house has caught on fire, somebody has difficulty breathing due to the coronavirus, or somebody is having a heart attack — the operator will make the necessary calls and first responders will spring into action. Depending on the nature of the emergency, paramedics, police officers, firefighters — sometimes all of the above — will be quickly dispatched to the scene.

If you work in one of these fields, you are doing an enormously pressure-packed job. Your duties include resuscitating people who have stopped breathing, transporting people in grave condition to the hospital by ambulance, confronting armed intruders, and pulling children out of burning homes. While your job is to help people and families who find themselves in perilous situations, ironically it is possible that you will sustain injuries while doing your job and as a result may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. Here are some things to remember if you are a first responder and get hurt while in the course of performing your duties.

  • Report the injury to your supervisor as soon as you can. If you are carrying a heavy man who has just had a heart attack on a stretcher with one of your fellow paramedics, and feel a pop in your back while moving him from his house to the ambulance, obviously you’re going to try to complete your assignment and make sure the patient is transported safely to the hospital. As soon as practicable, though, notify your supervisor about your injury with a phone call or text. You may be asked to complete an incident report, documenting what happened.
  • It may seem strange that you are attending to a person in need of medical treatment and may require doctors’ care yourself due to an on-the-job injury. Suppose you’re a police officer and are called to the scene of a car accident in which both drivers are injured and sent to the hospital via ambulance. Suppose you depart the scene and a mile down the road a truck rear-ends you, causing immediate neck pain. You call and let your lieutenant know that you were injured in an accident and would like medical attention. Your lieutenant should provide you with a list of designated workers’ compensation medical providers for you to pick from. If you are not given a list, and such a listed is not posted at your station, you may choose your own medical provider. If your injuries are serious, you should go to your local emergency room.
  • If you provide EMT services to a person with COVID-19, and then a day or two later you experience hallmark symptoms of the virus — bad cough, fever, difficulty breathing — which prevent you from doing your job, follow the steps we have outlined — notify your supervisor promptly and seek medical attention.
  • If you are a firefighter, you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits — even if you are a volunteer and not paid for your services. This is hazardous work so if you fall off a ladder and land on your hip, don’t think that you’re not covered by workers’ comp. benefits because your position is non-paying — the municipality for which you are a volunteer is required to provide you with workers’ comp. coverage.
  • If you are a police officer or firefighter and get injured, depending on the extent of your injuries, you may be entitled to benefits under the Pennsylvania Heart & Lung Act, which has similarities to the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act but major differences as well.

At Pearson Koutcher Law, we appreciate the hard work that all first responders do for the health, safety, and welfare of our communities. If you are injured on the job, please contact our firm, and one of our expert workers’ compensation lawyers will discuss your case in detail with you, and if necessary file a petition on your behalf to protect your rights.