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Firefighters and New Jersey workers’ compensation benefits

Employer insurance covering workplace injuries and deaths is reserved for Bergen County workers classified as employees. Contract workers and volunteers can be excluded from workers' compensation benefits. However, unlike "employees," injured contractors or volunteers aren't restricted from taking legal actions against employers.

Governments are employers for most firefighters, but there are plenty of volunteers in New Jersey. Fortunately, the state recognizes the dangers volunteers face alongside paid counterparts. A provision in the state workers' compensation law presumes respiratory diseases suffered by volunteer firefighters are work-related, making benefits available.

Thousands of firefighters are injured every year. A total of 14,890 were sidelined nationwide by injuries or job-linked illnesses in 2011, with 45 percent suffering from bodily reaction and overexertion. Almost one in four firefighters was hurt by coming in contact with equipment or objects and 14 percent suffered slips, trips or falls.

During the same year, 28 firefighters died at work. The 2011 fatality rate among firefighters was significantly lower than the national average of 3.5 per 100,000 workers, but the injury rate was remarkably high. The rate of nonfatal job injuries among firefighters was 475.2 per 10,000 workers – the average for all occupations was 117.3 per 10,000.

Combined, fire injuries and transportation accidents were responsible for 65 percent of all firefighting fatalities. Fifty percent of the deaths occurred during structure collapse. Surviving firefighters suffered injuries most often involving the trunks of their bodies and upper and lower extremities.

Severe burns like other serious injuries can take a long time to treat and heal. Some are disfiguring and permanently disabling. Workers' compensation benefits cover the medical costs involved and compensate injured employees for a large portion of lost wages.

As comforting as it is to know workers' comp payments are coming in, the benefits often are not enough to meet a family's needs. Attorneys assist victims with liability claims when third-party negligence is involved.

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