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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Firefighters Required to Stop Smoking On And Off Duty

In many jurisdictions firefighters are allowed a presumption under the law that their pulmonary disability is causally related to their employment under workers' compensation. Now firefighters hired after January 1, 2010 in St. Louis County will be told that they must not smoke on or off duty.

"We felt we owed it to our taxpayers to be in the best shape we possibly could," said Rich Minda, West County fire captain and a vice president of the local firefighters' union. "We just don't feel that it's proper to be doing something so bad for yourself when you're viewed as a role model."

Ordinances allowing presumptions have unique interpretations. A local ordinance provided for an irrefutable presumption that an illness suffered by a firefighter was related to his employment was not deemed to be a payment under the "Workman's Compensation Act" within the meaning of the Internal Revenue Code. Therefore the payments received by the firefighter were not excluded from income tax. Take v. Commission of Internal Revenue, 804 F.2d 553 (9th Cir.1986).

Also, firefighters are also entitled to benefits under the Public Safety Officers Benefit Program (PSOB), administered by the Department of Justice. The death of a volunteer firefighter who died of heart failure in the course of his duties while responding to a house fire was not deemed compensable. There was a lack of evidence as to smoke or carbon monoxide inhalation that would have triggered the heart attack. The volunteer firefighter was 70 years of age and had a history of heart trouble including prior hospitalizations for coronary insufficiency and for congestive heart failure. North v. United States, 1 Cl.Ct. 93, 555 F.Supp. 382 (1982).

Following the World Trade Center attack, many firefighters who were involved in the event and rescue were killed and those who survived suffer from respiratory conditions. The World Trade Center attack created an acute environmental disaster of incredible magnitude. It has been reported that the WTC dust was found to consist predominantly (95%) of coarse particles composed of cement, glass fiber, asbestos, lead, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, polychlorinated biphenyl and polychlorinated furans and dioxins. Due to potential latent disease consequences, the population's greatest risk of exposure, including firefighters, police, paramedics an other first responders as well as construction workers and volunteers who initially aided in the rescue and recovery and then for many months thereafter cleaned the rubble at Ground Zero, are considered to have an elevated risk and should be studied. Philip J. Lendrigan, et. al., "Health and Environmental Consequences of the World Trade Center Disaster," 112 Environmental Health perspectives 6 (May, 2004).

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