How your documentation of fire calls can make, or break, a cancer presumption claim

So you were the officer in charge of a structure fire today. Your first in engine crew made entry, extinguished a second floor bedroom fire all while the ladder company vented the roof and searched the interior. The incident went off relatively smoothly and you're back at the station restoring the apparatus and equipment. As your crews re-pack the lines, you sit down to write the fire report. While this is one of the most hated activities for any hard-nosed firefighter, it may prove to be the most important component of that call in the future (outside of good PPE/SCBA precautions).

A fire chief, especially in the volunteer world, should be astutely aware that any claim made under Pennsylvania's Cancer Presumption Act, requires that there be documentation of exposure to a carcinogen in the PennFIRS report. This is what is considered a threshold issue - i.e. a volunteer firefighter cannot gain the benefits of the Act if there is no reference to an exposure to the carcinogen in the PennFIRS report.

A recent case decided by the PA Commonwealth Court in March emphasized this. The claimant, a volunteer firefighter, was denied the benefits of the Act because no evidence was presented which referenced carcinogen exposure in a PennFIRS report. See Steele v. Workers' Comp. App. Bd., No. 875 C.D. 2016. How can you, as a chief officer, protect your personnel after the fire has been extinguished? Make sure to document any and all potential exposures. Think of this as you write narratives or "check boxes" for your incidents. Writing incident reports is a skill and one that an officer should hone just as much as his/her firefighters practice pulling line. Prevention of cancer is the best practice but maintaining good records will be a second line of defense should the worst case scenario occur.

#CancerPresumption #VolunteerFirefighter #EmergencyServices

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