Thank You California Firefighters for Putting It All on the Line

thank you california firefightersThank you California firefighters. By July 9, 2018, nearly 200,000 acres had been scorched in California wildfires. That is more than double the amount burned in each of the previous five years. Sadly, some parts of California have been so dry this year that they were never removed from drought status from last year. As of July 30, more than 10,000 people have been mandatorily evacuated from Mendocino and Lake Counties. The Ranch Fire along Highway 20 and the River Fire north of Hopland put residents across more than 35 miles at risk. With six out of the previous seven years experiencing severe drought across the state, hot, windy conditions make fighting these fires incredibly difficult and dangerous. It has been undeniably devastating for people who live and work in the area; but what has it been like for firefighters?

Hazards for California Firefighters

The men and women who fight these enormous fires are heroes in everybody’s eyes. The perils they confront as they protect Californians are many:

  • Thick smoke;
  • Winds that lead fires to change directions without warning;
  • Narrow roads that make traveling difficult;
  • Falling branches and exploding trees;
  • Fallen trees blocking roads;
  • Fatigue from working long hours;
  • Fallen power lines posing dangers to firefighters;
  • Dehydration;
  • Heat Stress as a result of vigorous manual labor, heavy gear, poor acclimatization to severe heat, and personal risk factors.

Work Schedules for California Firefighters

When situations are urgent, firefighters are often required to work long hours. In the case of these devastating wildfires, many of these heroes are unable to spend any time with their families and friends for days and weeks at a time. They grab sleep when at the brink of exhaustion, only to go back out to continue the demanding work again until communities are safe. While the fire season was once limited to the summer months, these days, California has deadly wildfires year-round. In the past six years, at least one wildfire has been burning during every single month of the year. While firefighters used to have the cooler months to refresh and regroup, the extended heat and drought have vaporized those opportunities.  

Injuries and Death a Constant Concern for California Firefighters

Firefighters put their lives at risk every time they confront a blaze. Consider these daunting statistics from 2016:

  • Over 60,000 serious injuries were incurred by individuals fighting fires;
  • Over half of the injuries involved respiratory problems;
  • There were 69 firefighters who lost their lives in the line of duty;

As of July 30, 2018, 59 firefighters have died on the job. A study of firefighter deaths indicates that firefighter fatalities for those involved in wildfires has increased by 26% in recent years. The primary causes of death between 2007-2016 include:

  • Vehicle accidents;
  • Aircraft accidents;
  • Heart attacks;
  • Entrapments;
  • Falling rocks and trees.

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Firefighters Need Legal Protection

firefightersRecent events in Mendocino, Lake, Napa and Sonoma County have highlighted the perils that firefighters face in the line of duty every single day. These heroes put their lives in danger in an attempt to salvage homes and businesses, not to mention crops, livestock, and of course, human life. For the most part, their bravery is rewarded with public adoration and appreciation. Sometimes, firefighters are placed in unpleasant situations that are legally untenable. In such circumstances, they have no choice but to seek local legal counsel.

Recent Firefighters Cases in the News

  • When firefighter Todd Milan spilled the beans on an OSHA violation that occurred, putting him in a particularly dangerous situation, he felt the response from his department was outright retaliation. A jury thought the same thing, awarding him over $2.3 million for emotional distress, past and future wages, and legal fees.
  • Santa Rosa firefighters filed suit in District Court in the spring of 2017, alleging an improper calculation of overtime pay. According to the suit, they wish to be reimbursed for the past three years of work, in addition to attorney’s fees. Why three years of back pay? That is the time frame allowed by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
  • A 27-year veteran firefighter in Los Angeles won a lawsuit in which he was awarded damages of over $1 million for racial discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. According to the suit, Jabari Jumaane’s captain falsified performance evaluations with the sanctioning of his battalion chief. Jumanne was disciplined, and even suspended for the poor evaluations. After over two weeks of deliberation, the jury found in favor of Jumaane.
  • Merely hours after learning of needed neck surgery, Chula Vista City fired their fire chief, James Garcia. He filed suit claiming discrimination based on a disability. The jury agreed, awarding him over $1 million.

Do Not be Deterred by the Fireman’s Rule

In addition to injustices, firefighters may wish to file civil suits base on injuries that occur during the workday. Because Workers’ Compensation laws seem adequate to cover injuries, the California Fireman’s Rule disallows firefighters from filing civil suits based on workplace injuries. However, there are specific exceptions to this rule:

  • When the injury was intentionally caused;
  • When unintentional actions occur that lead to injury, and the person causing the injury knew or should have known a public safety officer was involved;
  • When statutes, regulations, or ordinances created to protect public safety officers are ignored or violated.

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The information on this website should not be considered to be legal advice, nor construed to be the formation of any manner of attorney client relationship. Prior to taking any form of legal action, please consult with an attorney experienced in the appropriate area of law germane to your situation. Case results and testimonials presented on or any of its related websites are germane to the facts present for each individual case and is not a promise of similar outcomes for any other cases. This website is not intended to solicit clients for matters outside of the State of California.