How are workers' comp benefits different for firefighters?

If you are a firefighter who was injured or became ill because of your job, you should know that the workers' compensation laws stand behind you. In fact, workers' compensation in California specifically covers certain illnesses that are presumed to be caused by firefighting. These conditions are not automatically covered by workers' compensation for other types of workers. 

Your employer may dispute that a presumed illness or injury is work-related, but the employer carries the burden of proof to show that a presumed condition was not caused by your firefighting duties. The presumed conditions include:

  • Cancer. Unfortunately, firefighters face exposure to many carcinogens on the job. If you can show that during your service, you were exposed to any of a number of carcinogens identified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, then it's presumed that your cancer diagnosis arises from your employment. Although the law does not specify a list of possible cancers, it does state that the employer can rebut the presumption by proving that the carcinogen does not relate to the type of cancer you have developed.
  • Blood-borne diseases. Infections of the blood or skin fall under the presumption, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus skin infection (MRSA). The Department of Industrial Relations has identified several types of pathogenic microorganisms related to those diseases. Although the employer may dispute the presumption, the employer cannot attribute it to a pre-existing disease or skin infection.
  • Meningitis and tuberculosis. Both of these diseases carry a presumption that they developed from your service as a firefighter. Your employer may test you for tuberculosis when you begin your service.
  • Heart trouble, hernia and pneumonia. The employer cannot attribute these injuries to a pre-existing condition.
  • Other claims. Firefighters are also entitled to workers' compensation benefits for a wide variety of other injuries, including back injuries, head injuries and burns.

The additional presumptions for firefighters continue even after the firefighter's service ends, depending on the type of injury or illness and how long the firefighter served. If you are an apprentice or volunteer, you may wonder if this law applies to you. In general, it does.

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