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Iowa Court Rules in Firefighter Workers' Comp Case

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  • Iowa Court Rules in Firefighter Workers' Comp Case

    This will make you get PO'ed........


    Iowa Court Rules in Firefighter Workers' Comp Case

    August 17, 2010

    A volunteer firefighter must be summoned to duty only through official channels and not by circumstances, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled as it sought to resolve a workers compensation claim.

    The court ruled Friday in a case between insurance companies disputing a claim for volunteer firefighter Justin Fauer, who died in 2005 after he tried to save his boss from a manure pit on the cattle farm where they worked near Andover in Clinton County.

    The farm's insurance company, Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company, paid the claim but sought for it to be shared by the fire department's company, Traveler's Insurance Company, claiming Fauer also responded as a firefighter.
    Fauer's boss, Dwight Johnson, climbed into a manure pit at Johnson Valley Beef to retrieve a chain that had fallen into the pit and was overcome by methane fumes, court records show.

    Fauer, a volunteer firefighter with Andover Volunteer Fire Department, ran to the house to tell Johnson's wife to call 911 and then returned to the pit where he climbed in and was also overcome.

    A deputy workers compensation commissioner ruled that Fauer responded to the emergency as both a farm hand and a volunteer firefighter because some of the injuries that led to his death occurred after he would have been notified in his capacity as a firefighter.

    The court said the commissioner "determined Justin was summoned to duty by the dispatcher either before or after he was overcome by the methane gas.''

    As a result, the commissioner found Traveler's was responsible for one-half the benefits paid through the workers compensation claim. Traveler's appealed but the commissioner ruled the timing of the notice to Fauer's pager "was not critical to the determination of coverage ... because Justin has been summoned to duty as a volunteer firefighter by the circumstances themselves.''

    The commissioner determined that failure to allow volunteer firefighters to call themselves to duty would have the "absurd result of deterring them from immediately rendering assistance upon encountering an emergency.''

    Traveler's sought a review by the court and a district court rejected the commissioner's ruling. "It concluded a volunteer firefighter cannot be summoned to duty by circumstances, but can only be summoned by the fire department or some other official channel.''

    The district court ruled that Fauer could only have been summoned by a page from the emergency communications center, which was sent 1 minute 8 seconds after the emergency communications center received the 911 call, court records show.

    Grinnell appealed the court's decision but it was rejected by the Iowa Supreme Court, which upheld the district court's decision.
    Charles Blades, an attorney for Grinnell, was disappointed in the decision.
    He called it a "unique case in workers compensation because it's between two insurance companies.

    "I wonder if instead the case had involved an individual who was seeking comp from the fire department and that was their only source, I think the court would have looked at the case differently and the result would maybe have been different,'' he said.

    A telephone message left Friday for an attorney for Traveler's Mutual Insurance was not immediately returned.
    Stay Safe and Well Out There....

    Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers

  • #2
    So what the Circus Court is saying is, "a firefighter has to wait for the page before they spring into action, or they forfit their rights to the insurance that was meant to protect them and their families in case of injury or death", paraphrased of course but is that what they are saying?
    I can see it now. 4 fire fighters, whether career or volunteer, are driving alone and they see a house fire. The Circus Court would have them wait, as if it running blocks, for the word to attack. Then spring into action fully protected by the insurance.


    • #3
      Thanks for posting this. Had no seen yet. Will be a major discussion item here in Iowa.

      As I read this, if we happen upon a fire, accident, or any other emergency we can not take any action until after we call in the incident AND then are paged to respond. Leaves open question of then requiring PPE and equipment before taking action. According to the court, we should not be on scene until we have been paged and respond in accordance with FD SOP. So how can we be on scene without PPE? Assuming I was not standing at the scene and the fire station was located between me and the incident I would travel to station to pickup an apparatus and my PPE. So by extension, I must do the same in all times and must leave the scene and go to station for PPE and equipment before taking action. What if I come across an incident outside of my district when traveling across the state. I must take no action other than calling 911?

      This likely will add additional ammo to the "fire the bums/judges" movement in Iowa of this election cycle.

      In Iowa, Judges periodically must be approved for retention at a general election. Set up so judges that are not acting in the public interest or in accordance with the values of the public can be canned. As the judiciary in Iowa has over the last 20years been taken over by extremist left wing judicial activists there is a significant movement to throw out the 3 Iowa Supreme Court judges (including the Chief) up for reappointment in Nov. The straw that is going to break their back, is the rewriting of Iowa law to allow queers to marry.


      • #4
        I kinda/somewhat/sorta see the rationale for this.

        We get dispatched via 911, but many people in our district still have our old direct line to the station. They used to call us directly back in the day when we used to do our own dispatch. Now we will have someone call us and tell us "I think the house down the street is burning", or "There was a wreck down the street". We take down the address, and then we tell them that they need to call 911 in order for us to get dispatched and respond. (That makes sure that an official tone gets send to our pager to alert personel at home, mutual aid gets started, EMS gets started, and so forth. And yes, being on an "official" call will help protect us if anything goes wrong). We then bunk out and start responding code 1, and as soon as the page drops the sirens get turned on.

        When we find an incident ourselves while in an FD vehicle we get on the radio and send a message to the effect of "My FD to dispatch, we are on scene at a strucure fire at xyz street, please dispatch us for a confirmed stucture fire response, send other FD for mutual aid, we are establishing XYZ Command". The incident time starts when we acknowledge that there is an incident, not when we get dispatched.
        "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin


        • #5
          Probably the next thing the courts will rule on is the Good Samarian Act and prohibit certified EMS folks from stopping and rendering aid at a vehicle accident!

          Stay Safe and Well Out There....

          Always remembering 9-11-2001 and 343+ Brothers


          • #6
            If Justin Fauer would have made the call himself to 911, would he then be considered self dispatched to the incident??? Same with anyone else that is a volly that calls in an incident. I would assume if a FF/EMT called in an emergency, they could declare themselves dispatched and on scene. Yes/No ???

            I'm the one Fire and Rescue calls, when they need to be Rescued.

            Originally posted by EastKyFF
            "Firemens gets antsies. Theys wants to goes to fires. Sometimeses they haves to waits."


            • #7
              That's what I have done in the past when calling 911 from my cell phone when I just happend to roll up at an incident that was not dispatched.

              "This is #XYZ from MY FD, I am at "whatever the call is at whatever address", show me on scene"
              "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." -- Benjamin Franklin


              • #8
                I also can see their logic here.

                1. Had he been responding as a firefighter, his actions were be a violation of good policy and training and therefore inappropriate as a lone firefighter. Most of us should know by now not to go below the Earth's surface without suspecting oxygen deficiency or other gas in the hole.

                2. Where does it stop? If I can respond to an accident I'm at when it occurs, is the FD responsible for my injuries if I get into an MVA within the FD's municipal boundaries? After all I was first on scene and IC!

                It appears in this case, the employee, who happened to be a volunteer firefighter, courageously, yet counter to proper training, attempted to save his boss. If he'd lived he'd be a hero for reacting selflessly, though in this case it appears, somewhat blindly to the dangers.

                The first insurance company was just looking to share the bills and tried passing it off to the FD, as he was a firefighter and acted as one would expect a firefighter to do. Maybe they contended an ordinary person wouldn't have attempted save the boss, but a firefighter would?


                • #9
                  I see a few sticking points as to why this is a special case

                  1) The FF was working, for his boss when his boss, at thier worksite was injured and he himself became injured while trying to render assistance.

                  2) At what point did he stop being an employee of the farm and start being a FF? He did not leave the farm and could have been seen following procedures for the farm

                  3) He did not follow SOP for this type of rescue via the FD (I hope). Next question - was he trained for this type of rescue to start with?

                  My gut tells me that you would have seen a different ruling if a few items played out differenty - especially the whole incident at his workplace and his direct actions.

                  I don't want to seen anti-FF but I do see the arguement for him acting as an emplyee of the farm rather than as a FF. If he had been paged and in proper PPE following dept procedures, I would see it differently.


                  • #10
                    Another pos decision by the so called courts system!!!


                    • #11
                      I guess I'll joing the crowd that thinks this isn't such a bad decision.

                      There are several aspects of this that make it interesting. Probably the most obvious is the aspect of whether or not Fauer was indeed on-duty with the FD or was a worker on the farm. I'm sure there are several things that had to be taken into consideration when this was decided. Did the farmer have a policy that Fauer could leave to respond to calls? If not, then he had no authority to respond as a firefighter. That is unless Iowa has a law that requires employers to allow vollies to respond.

                      Next is whether or not he was officially responding. That may be up to interpretation. On our vollie department, you are not responding as a member of the department unless we have been toned and you make notification that you are responding. That policy is directly because of a liability issue we've ran into due to similar situations. If FF Joe is at work and there's a fire there, he's an employee and must take the appropriate action as deemed by his employer. Until he is properly dispatched and authorized to leave work by his employer and then makes the proper notification that he is responding, he's not responding as one of our firefighters. Once he is responding, he is required to follow our SOG's.

                      Now you have the aspect of what if he's not an employee and he's not a firefighter. That means he's nothing more than a trained (assumably) good samaritan. In that case, neither insurance would have been required to cover him.

                      Then you have the aspect of whether the farm was even in his department's jurisdiction. I'm assuming that's the case, as the article mentions it was near Andover and he's a member of the Andover FD, but you never know.

                      If he was a member of a fire department, he just made a major screw-up. He violated OSHA regulations and entered an obviously IDLH environment without proper PPE and two-in/two-out. That is unless he could prove that that the victim was viable (obviously he was verifiable), in which case he would still need PPE but could defer from the two-in/two-out.

                      While a death of one of our own is never a good thing, there are situations that can tear a small vollie department apart. This is potentially one of those situations. Not only do you have to consider the potential OSHA (or Iowa's equivalent) investigations and actions, you have to consider the costs of lawsuits and everything else. I'm sure their only saving grace in this situation is that it was an insurance vs. insurance battle.

                      While we, as the fire service, have rarely had to take liability into consideration, it's to the point that we have to these days.

                      A department near me had an LODD occur in thier jurisdiction. The LODD was a member of a mutual aid agency. However, since the fire was in their jurisdiction, they were responsbile for a large part of the worker's comp claim. This has lead to them requiring mutual aid contracts that have a clause stating each FD is responsible for worker's comp on their own people. Those who don't include the clause don't provide/recieve mutual aid from them. It's a necessity for them to avoid the potential costs associated with another incident, which is still costing them 6+ years later in insurance costs taken out of an already small budget.


                      • #12
                        In one thread you guys cry about how broke your departments are, now everyone is complaining when a guy at work is supposed to be covered by his employer and not his VFD.


                        • #13
                          I see both angles of this whole situation. Being it happened in my state, it is kind of weird I haven't heard much about it. I can understand why Grinnell is trying to recieve compensation from Travelers. Either way, you have to look at as though the person's family was rightfully compensated. I have no clue how the insurance for a Fire Department and employers work, so maybe my question can be answered. Do rates go up after an incident like this? If so, is it really that bad of thing that the VFD's insurance stayed out of it? My thoughts are, if a volunteer firefighter's house starts on fire and he calls 911. Then he starts to try and save his family from the blaze, and in the process dies, is he a firefighter or a homeowner? I can see the situation of the farm going both ways.


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by MarcusKspn View Post
                            That's what I have done in the past when calling 911 from my cell phone when I just happend to roll up at an incident that was not dispatched.

                            "This is #XYZ from MY FD, I am at "whatever the call is at whatever address", show me on scene"
                            Keep in mind you're talking apples and oranges. This is not a guy that drove up on an accident in his jurisdiction. This is a guy that was on the clock with his employer and who happened to be a vollie firefighter when an emergency struck.

                            If this were to have happened in a factory, he would have had fallen into whateve procedure the company had in place for a workplace emergency. The fact that this is a farm doesn't necessarily change that, but any of us that grew up working on a farm know there's not that formality in that kind of workplace.


                            • #15
                              Does anybody know if he was entitled to his state LODD benifits? Did he meet the requirments to be classified as a line of duty death? If not then why should the fd insurance have to pay for his claim. If he did then the department insurance should be responsible for his claim.

                              I think that in this case the question is at what point is a volunteer firefigther considered on duty. At what point are they "on the clock" for worker comp claims.

                              the most important question!

                              Does LA have a half-brother that is a judge in IA?


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