Everyone knows that fighting fires is a difficult and dangerous job. If a salaried firefighter is injured while fighting a fire, they are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits through the traditional workers’ compensation system. However, volunteer firefighters and other volunteer emergency responders are in a much different position.
Workers’ compensation generally requires an employer-employee relationship for the injured worker to receive benefits. Technically, because a volunteer firefighter is not being paid for their work, no matter how dangerous it is, they are not considered an employee.
Luckily, the Pennsylvania legislature included a provision in the Pennsylvania Workers’ Compensation Act specifically addressing volunteer firefighters injured in the line of duty. The Act requires the municipality where the volunteer firefighter serves must provide workers’ compensation coverage.
Therefore, all injuries and illness related to firefighting are covered by workers’ compensation. Whether you injure your back pulling a hose, fracture a leg falling through a floor, lose your hearing due to a loud noise or suffer lung damage from smoke inhalation, you have the right to file a workers’ compensation claim. In addition, you would be entitled to Heart and Lung Benefits entitling you to 100% of your wage loss to be compensated.
If you are injured during your duties as a volunteer firefighter, you must report the injury to your supervisor or chief within 120 days. You must then treat with one of the medical providers posted by your municipality within 90 days. The municipality must tell you whether they accept or deny your injury within 21 days from the first day you miss work.
If a volunteer firefighter is eligible to receive workers’ compensation benefits, an average weekly wage must be calculated to determine the amount of benefits they should receive. Since volunteer firefighters do not earn a wage, the Workers’ Compensation Act provides that an injured firefighter’s wage loss benefits should be based on the Statewide Average Weekly Wage. The Statewide Average Weekly Wage is determined each year by the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry.
Have you recently been injured while at work but are concerned that you may not receive benefits because you only qualify as a “volunteer?” If so, contact Calhoon and Kaminsky P.C., at 1-877-291-9675 for a free consultation.