Firefighting is a physically demanding and dangerous profession that involves a dedication, bravery and a much higher risk of injury than most other professions.
“Disability Retirement” can be claimed by a firefighter because of any permanent injury or illness that keeps them from working – regardless of the cause of the medical condition or disease. But, “Industrial Disability Retirement” specifically refers to the inability to perform work duties because of an injury that occurred at the workplace, or a medical condition or illness that is job-related.
In this article the experienced California firefighter disability retirement attorneys at Cantrell Green discuss the rights and options of disabled firefighters, to help you understand the benefits for which you may qualify. We also offer a free consultation to California firefighters covered by any retirement system to help you obtain your hard-earned disability retirement benefits.
Most Common Firefighter Disabilities
The most common illnesses and work-related injuries that cause firefighters to become permanently disabled and have to collect disability retirement are musculoskeletal injuries, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.
Musculoskeletal injuries, such as sprains, strains, and herniated discs, are the most common type of injury among firefighters. The repetitive strain on joints and muscles from carrying heavy equipment, climbing ladders, and performing other physically demanding tasks can cause chronic pain and long-term disability. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), musculoskeletal injuries accounted for 53% of all firefighter injuries in 2019.
Cardiovascular disease is another common cause of disability retirement among firefighters. The stress of firefighting, exposure to smoke and chemicals, and the physical demands of the job can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. According to the NFPA, cardiovascular disease was responsible for 45% of firefighter line-of-duty deaths in 2020.
Cancer is also a significant concern for firefighters. Exposure to smoke, chemicals, and other toxins can increase the risk of developing cancer. The International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) reports that firefighters have a 9% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14% higher risk of dying from cancer than the general population.
In California, the statistics on firefighter injuries and disabilities are similar to national averages. According to the California Department of Industrial Relations, musculoskeletal injuries accounted for 52% of all firefighter injuries in 2020. Cardiovascular disease was responsible for 7% of firefighter injuries and 46% of firefighter deaths in California between 2007 and 2016. Cancer is also a significant concern in California, with the California Professional Firefighters reporting that firefighters have a 14% higher risk of developing cancer than the general population.
California Firefighter Disability Retirement Systems
There are several disability retirement systems in California that cover firefighters. Here are some of the major ones:
California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) – CalPERS is the largest public retirement system in California and covers most state and local government employees, including firefighters. According to CalPERS, as of June 30, 2021, there were 33,217 active members in the CalPERS Safety Plan, which covers firefighters, police officers, and other public safety employees.
California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) – CalSTRS is the retirement system for public school teachers and administrators in California. It also covers certain community college employees and some employees of the California State University system. According to CalSTRS, as of June 30, 2021, there were 1,028 active members in the CalSTRS Defined Benefit Program who were classified as firefighters or fire marshals.
Los Angeles City Employees’ Retirement System (LACERS) – LACERS is the retirement system for most city employees in Los Angeles, including firefighters. According to LACERS, as of June 30, 2021, there were 2,387 active members in the LACERS Fire and Police Pension Plan.
Los Angeles County Employees Retirement Association (LACERA) – LACERA is the retirement system for most county employees in Los Angeles, including firefighters. According to LACERA, as of June 30, 2021, there were 5,518 active members in the LACERA Safety Plan, which covers firefighters, law enforcement officers, and other public safety employees.
Orange County Employees Retirement System (OCERS) – OCERS is the retirement system for most county employees in Orange County, including firefighters. According to OCERS, as of June 30, 2021, there were 1,386 active members in the OCERS Safety Plan, which covers firefighters, law enforcement officers, and other public safety employees.
It is important to note that these statistics may not include all firefighters who are covered by disability retirement systems in California. Some firefighters may be covered by other retirement systems or may or may not be eligible for disability retirement benefits due to their employment status or other factors. Additionally, these statistics may change over time as firefighters enter and exit the workforce and retirement systems make changes to their membership policies and eligibility criteria.
California Firefighter Disability Retirement Benefits
In California, firefighters who become permanently disabled due to a job-related injury or illness are typically eligible for disability retirement benefits through their retirement system. However, the process for collecting these disability retirement benefits varies depending on the firefighter’s employer and retirement system.
Generally, a firefighter in California must meet certain eligibility requirements to qualify for disability retirement benefits. These requirements may include a determination by a medical professional that the firefighter is permanently incapacitated and unable to perform the duties of their job, as well as a determination by their employer or retirement system that the injury or illness was job-related.
To apply for disability retirement benefits, the firefighter must typically submit a written application to their employer or retirement system. The application may require documentation of the injury or illness, such as medical records and reports, as well as other supporting documentation.
Once the application is received, the employer or retirement system will typically review the application and may require the firefighter to undergo additional medical evaluations or assessments. They may also request additional documentation or information to support the claim.
If the employer or retirement system determines that the firefighter is eligible for disability retirement benefits, they will typically calculate the amount of the benefit based on the firefighter’s age, length of service, and other factors. The benefit may be paid out as a lump sum or in monthly installments, depending on the retirement system’s policies.
It is important for firefighters in California who are considering applying for disability retirement benefits to consult with an experienced California Firefighter Disability Retirement attorney who is highly experienced with the process. The specialized California Firefighter Disability Retirement attorneys at Cantrell Green can help firefighters understand their rights and options, and can provide guidance on how to navigate the complex application process and maximize their benefits.
California Firefighter Disability Retirement Attorneys
Musculoskeletal injuries, cardiovascular disease, cancer and other work-related injuries can cause firefighters to become permanently disabled and have to retire. These injuries and illnesses can have a significant impact on firefighters’ lives and financial security.
The experienced California firefighter disability retirement attorneys at Cantrell Green can help you understand your rights and options, and can help you navigate the complex application and/or appeals process to ensure you obtain the maximize benefits for which you qualify.
Every public retirement system is different. This information may or may not apply to your not reflect the rules, laws or regulations governing how your public retirement system is administered. If you have question about your public employee retirement system, find your system, below – or call our Disability Retirement attorneys at: 562-622-4800
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Our highly specialized disability retirement attorneys are committed to ensuring that every injured or disabled public employee obtains the disability retirement benefits he or she has earned.
We have successfully filed hundreds of disability retirement applications and appeals – obtaining millions of dollars in disability retirement benefits in our four decades of legal service.
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