Yes, in most cases, firefighters and rescue workers injured on the job in Horry County are eligible for workers’ compensation, which is no-fault insurance that provides coverage of employees’ accidental injuries and occupational illnesses. If you’re hurt or become ill in the course of doing your job, you may file a claim for workers’ comp benefits to cover your medical bills, lost wages, and disability care.
Most South Carolina companies with four or more workers are required to carry workers’ comp. To file a claim, you don’t have to prove that your employer did anything wrong to cause your accident or illness, and your employer may not fire you or retaliate against you in any other way for filing.
Common Firefighters’ Injuries
A firefighter’s job is obviously one of the most dangerous there is. The injuries and illnesses that you might contract in the course of fighting fires and rescuing fire and accident victims include:
Serious thermal, chemical, and electrical burns, as well as burns from explosions, can cause deep tissue and bone damage, often requiring a long recovery and leaving permanent scars or disfigurement.
Impact with objects inside a burning structure or a vehicle accident on the way to or from a fire can break bones in almost any part of the body, causing extreme pain, weakness, and immobility.
Traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Even though firefighters wear helmets, a blow to the head from a falling beam in a burning building, for example, could cause a TBI. Symptoms include impaired balance and coordination, slurred speech, trouble with memory or concentration, and seizures.
Internal organ damage.
Firefighters often suffer damage to the spleen, kidneys, liver, or bowel, as well as punctured lungs due to broken ribs.
Despite their protective equipment, firefighters are at risk of repeated smoke inhalation, which can cause cancer.
Firefighters can be seriously cut by sharp objects in a burning building or in vehicle accidents on the way to or from a fire or a hospital.
Carrying victims to safety, wrangling heavy firehoses, and lifting objects that impede entrance to or exit from a burning building can cause hernias, slipped discs, and strains or sprains of muscles and ligaments.
In many cases, firefighters’ injuries can lead to long-term or permanent disability, but the symptoms of even the most serious injuries might not be apparent right after an accident. The adrenaline that the body produces in reaction to the stress of fighting a fire can mask symptoms for hours or days after a fire run. You could be seriously hurt without even realizing that you are.
For this reason, it’s important to report even a minor firefighting injury to your supervisor and file a claim with the South Carolina Workers’ Compensation Commission (SCWCC) as soon as possible. Seek medical attention from the doctor recommended by your employer’s insurer, not from your own doctor. A medical exam, along with diagnostic tests, will document the injuries you’ve suffered, giving you the evidence you need for your workers’ comp claim. If your injuries are serious, your medical bills are high, or your employer disputes your claim, you’re well-advised to consult an attorney to help you seek workers' compensation benefits.
Workers’ Comp for Psychological Conditions
Firefighters are exposed not only to physical danger; they also run the risk of psychological and emotional injury as a result of what they repeatedly witness on the job: serious injuries to others, including co-workers, pain, death, disfigurement, and loss of property and possessions, as well as the grief of bereaved family members and friends of deceased fire victims. Regular exposure to the tragedies caused by fires can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other psychological issues. Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Detachment from reality
- Substance abuse
Although PTSD can develop over time from repeated exposure to emotional trauma, workers’ comp has historically not covered any psychological injury unless it’s connected to a specific, work-related physical injury. This means many workers with legitimate, work-related psychological issues have not received benefits to cover counseling and similar treatment. In 2021, a bill to address this issue was introduced in the South Carolina legislature, but it has not yet been passed. The South Carolina Law Enforcement Assistance Program, however, has set aside funds for mental health treatment of firefighters with PTSD diagnoses. The complicated landscape surrounding firefighters’ work-related psychological injuries is one more reason to consult a workers’ comp lawyer if you have such a claim.
Have You Been Injured On The Job?
If you've been hurt at your job you can speak with a workers' compensation lawyer. Please contact us online or call our Charleston, South Carolina office directly at 843.488.2359 to schedule your consultation. We are also able to meet clients at our Conway, Myrtle Beach, Murrells Inlet, Mt. Pleasant, North Myrtle Beach or North Charleston office locations.