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.

[Read more…]

California Fires: When Natural Disasters Impact Your Ability to Return to Work

california firesCalifornia fires have had a disastrous effect on natural structures and communities. In addition to the many homes that have been devastated, businesses have been destroyed as well, leaving many Californians without jobs. If you are one of the many residents of this state who have lost not only a home, but your livelihood, you may be wondering what the obligations of your employer are in terms of salary and leave during this fire disaster.

California Fires and Wage Laws

Under California law, when a natural disaster occurs, employers must pay reporting time pay as per the Wage Order. This means that as employees are scheduled to return to work and they show up ready to work, but are not able to be put to work, or are allowed less than half of their usual work hours, they must be paid half their usual wage. At a minimum, they must be paid for two hours of work at their normal rate of pay. So if, for example, an employee works one hour out of an eight-hour shift, payment for four hours is required. However, if the employee chooses to leave early, this requirement becomes null. If the employee leaves early due to illness, the company’s sick leave policy would then potentially come into play.

When employees are required to attend meetings on days in which they normally do not work, they may be entitled to anywhere from two to four hours of regular pay.

California Fires and Exceptions to Reporting Time Pay

There are certain circumstances under which employers are not expected to pay overtime pay:

  • When persons or property are threatened and authorities determine that work may not begin or continue;
  • When public utilities such as electricity, water, gas or sewer are inoperable;
  • When the problem that caused the work disruption is an Act of God, such as an earthquake.

When Employers do Not Pay Reporting Time Pay as Required

Employees are protected by California law and must be paid under the circumstances described. When employers fail to meet their obligations, individuals may file a wage claim with the Labor Commissioner’s Office, or they may sue their employer to recover lost reporting time pay owed to them.

California Fires – What if Employers Retaliate?

Federal law prohibits discrimination or retaliation against employees for attempting to collect owed monies. If an individual experiences these types of issues, or is fired altogether, it is yet another reason to file a lawsuit against the errant employer. [Read more…]


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