Tulsa Firefighters Getting Hurt Many Different Ways

Among the claims included were weight-lifting injuries, a cooking accident and a bad back blamed on dumping a mop bucket.


 

Feb. 12-- Firefighters are unique among city employees -- or just about any kind of employee, for that matter.

Not only is their work dangerous, but it requires them to literally live the job, eating and sleeping at their stations for days at a time.

That can lead to some interesting workers compensation claims.

Weight-lifting injuries. A cooking accident. A heart attack while walking on a track. A bad back blamed on "dumping a mop bucket."

The Tulsa World studied cases in which a workers compensation court order was issued between January 2010 and November 2011. Records are not precise, but about 20 of the 72 Fire Department-related files included in the study of the city's workers compensation claims appear to be attributed to injuries suffered at fires or other emergencies to which the claimant had been dispatched. Those included falls on ice, ladder climbing, collapsing floors and at least one heart attack.

By comparison, 13 cases were attributed to training activities of some kind, including running, swimming, tying knots, lifting weights and "pulling hose."

The frequency of such injuries seems to make the Fire Department a candidate for what city physician Dr. Phillip Berry called "overtraining." Yet the general public might be surprised to learn the city has 300-pound firefighters.

"We do have some big guys," said TFD Administrative Chief Jeremy Moore. "Some 300-pound guys are solid as a rock, some are not."

Firefighters hired before 1995 are exempt from the department's annual fitness test, which in any event is "not very strenuous in my opinion," said Berry.

According to court files, one 300-pound firefighter was injured playing basketball with children after a left knee replacement and four surgeries on his right knee.

Another, listed at 326 pounds in medical records, slipped on ice getting out of a department vehicle.

Still another, listed as 5 feet 4 inches tall and 337 pounds, "slipped on water spot at station."

But it's not just the size of firefighters that can present problems.

Several injuries were attributed to lifting overweight people -- including a 400-pounder -- in emergencies.

Moore said first responders are seeing "quite a few" people over 350 pounds, causing the department to develop policies on their handling.

Examination of the case files suggests many injuries directly attributed to nonemergency -- and even nontraining -- events may in fact stem from earlier work-related injuries or general wear and tear.

But workers compensation, at least in theory, does not cover general wear and tear, and cumulative or repetitive-use cases are more difficult to win than single-event claims.

Firefighters -- and police -- are different from other city workers in that they receive what amounts to full wages, as opposed to three-quarters pay or less, while on temporary total disability.

Firefighters are unique in at least one other respect. Unlike other municipal workers, including police, their disability pensions -- as opposed to regular pensions -- are exempt from state income tax.

"Whether they want to admit or not, there does seem to be a little uptick (of firefighters) who want to be evaluated just before they retire," said Berry.

"From the Fire Department's perspective," said Moore, "our employees' main causes of injuries are due to the nature of our business. That tends to compound as they get older."

 

Firefighters workers compensation By the numbers

72 Number of cases involving firefighters in which a workers compensation court order was issued between January 2010 and November 2011

5 Number of multiple claimants

28 Percent of cases against the City of Tulsa that were filed by firefighters

$1,535,289.09 Total value of firefighters' claims

25 Percent of total claim value for city that came from firefighters' claims

$21,623.79 Average value of a firefighters' claim *Numbers taken from 251 cases in which a City of Tulsa workers compensation court order was issued between January 2010 and November 2011

This content continues onto the next page...