Firefighters are often placed in dangerous situations during the course of their occupation that can result in both minor and major injuries. Whether they are fighting off a massive brush fire or participating in dangerous training exercises, these public servants often risk their safety and make tremendous sacrifices to protect the public.
As such, under California’s workers’ compensation laws, all volunteer, apprentice, full-time and part-time firefighters are afforded certain protections and monetary benefits covering lost wages, medical expenses, disability benefits, and death benefits to surviving family members in the event that they should become injured or ill as a result of their employment. Workers’ compensation covers nearly any work-related illness or injury, from burn injuries and smoke inhalation to long-term illnesses such as lung cancer and heart conditions.
If you are a firefighter and have become sick or hurt due to your service, you may pursue your entitled benefits by adhering to the following steps:
- Seek medical care immediately: As soon as possible, seek a full medical evaluation and treatment for your injuries. If your injuries warrant immediate medical attention, call an ambulance or head to the nearest emergency room or urgent care clinic. Inform your attending physician that your injuries were a result of your employment and request a copy of their medical report.
- Notify your employer: Inform your employer of your injuries as soon as you have an opportunity. If your medical condition or injury has developed gradually over an extended period of time, let them know as soon as your condition causes you to miss work or see a doctor. Failing to notify your employer within a reasonable timeframe may cause a denial of your benefits, so the sooner you let them know, the better.
- Fill out a DWC-1 form: The general workers’ comp claim form, form DWC-1, will ask for your basic information and a description of your injury or illness. It is important you be thorough when completing this form and name every body part that has been injured, as you may be denied coverage for the treatment of any illness or injury not listed on your application. Give this form to your employer.
- Fill out an Application for Adjudication of Claim: You will need to complete a WCAB Form 1 with the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (WCAB) within one year of your accident to complete your filing. This form will require you to name your employer’s workers’ compensation insurer, which can be found either on the carbon copy of your DWC-1 form or by getting in touch with the WCAB. File this for in person or send it by mail with a proof of service form.
- Fill out a Declaration Pursuant to Labor Code 4906(g): By signing this form, you verify that neither you nor your physician have submitted any fraudulent information in your workers’ compensation filing.
- Include a DWC cover sheet and document separators: Place a document separator after each item in your application and a cover sheet on top. These forms can be found at the DWC website.
Once you have sent in your packet, you will receive a response from your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance provider within two weeks, either in the form of temporary disability payments or a letter informing you of a denial or further investigation of your claim. Insurers that fail to respond within this timeframe may be liable for a 10% penalty on any payments you should have received during this time.