Monday, November 10, 2008

How long do we keep injured firefighters?

One of the most challenging issues I faced as a fire chief was a firefighter who was injured on the job. Having a firefighter injured is never a great thing to deal with, but we know that the job has some inherent risks and with these risks come injuries and in some cases even death. Some injuries are permenant and others take years to overcome.

That being said when should firefighters be terminated off the payroll? Before you react emotionally, which is very easy to do on this subject, here are a few things you must considered before you respond.

The firefighter is governed by a bargaining unit contract that offers pay and benefits for six months and nothing beyond that time period. There is no known time period that the firefighter will be able to return to duty. There is one side telling you that you need to release the firefighter because you are filling the position with overtime pay, there is the other side telling you to be compassionate and let the firefighter on the books for an indefinite period.

There are pro and cons to both. You are preparing to set a precedent. Where do you go from here? When do you release a firefighter from the organization? You are not able to make a position for a firefighter every time they sustain an injury. Some organizations say it is one year then you release the firefighter. What is the magic number? How do you determine what the right time is to release a firefighter? You have to use compassion and yet make sure it is a good business decision also.

Let's hear from you.
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  1. How long?
    For as long as you are required to by law and by collective bargaining agreement. FMLA, if a person qualifies, protects a person's job for 12 weeks. If they can't return, then, if an employer doesn't have long term leave policy, the employee can be separated. ADA has to be considered as well. But, most importantly, has the permanent disability been measured against ALL positions available and can this person still work?
    At Davenport, IA, FF Bob Juarez was paralyzed after falling from a ladder at a working fire. He was moved to an administrative position where he will grow and the dept. is better for it.
    Doing what is "legal" is not always the "right" thing to do.
    Decisions of these types have to be in the best interests of ALL parties.

  2. Good post, jeff, and truly a difficult call. These matters are always tough for the fire service, separating business from personal (Tom Hagen would be frustrated). The current and impending economic collapse is only going to complicate these kinds of matters further. I do think it's critical to establish a clear policy (as clear as possible, given the uniqueness of these types of situations) for how injured firefighters will be handled in a given department.

  3. The Firefighter's rights vary by State and based on the contract in place. For example, Illinois has PEDA, the public employee disability act. PEDA says that an employee injured in the line of duty shall recieve the same pay as before the injury without deductions for accumulated sick time, vacation etc... for "no longer than one year".

    This question has too many variables to give a blanket answer.

  4. How about asking the question..."How Long do we keep our military veterans?" The answer is VA/ not perfect far as the vision is concerned..."Homeland Security" if it is going to mean something how about "Homeland Defence" and the firefighter is transferred to VA as part of the larger pic on injury for "Vital, critical,defense of America". O.K. not everyone agrees, but, protecting mom and apple pie IS a priority or so the mantra goes...Dirty bomb, fall out, risk, exposure, stress, injury physical mental? Someday we may arrive at the common sense solution to the problem of getting connected to the hydrant. The key to opening the caps is to turn the spindle and open the gated wye...Why? Because common sense says we need to get the Feds to own our problem even as we cut bleed and die from physical and emotional wounds...suffered in "The Line of Duty". What? oh yes...we are supposed to do it quietly...ours is a calling after all...hec.."it's just a job". Anyone can do it and anyone can replace us when we cannot go on with the injury...or so the theory goes...

  5. The long and the short of it...
    Question: how long do we stay at a "fire?".
    Unitl it is out. No, not a simple answer to a "complex problem"...a "straight answer to how we do business". If we do business by "salvage and overhaul" and removing the debris to the "garbage dump of life" then, we will slip into the basement of every other persons view of garbage...take it away, trash...not my problem...bury it someplace away from the area of a nose that does not want to smell it...R.E.M.f(s) point of view does not match the reality of the spirit on the front lines...never has and never will...


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