Firefighters ask for exception to workers compensation policy during pandemic
HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Hawaii Fire Fighters Association has asked Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell to give them more protection in the form of workers’ compensation during the pandemic.
The HFFA sent a letter to Caldwell on Thursday, asking him to consider language changes that would make clear that the department presumes that any first responder diagnosed with COVID-19 contracted it while on the job, therefore making the firefighter eligible for benefits, which include pay and help with additional medical costs.
“Unless it’s very clear that they were on vacation or someplace away from the job,” said Bobby Lee, the union’s president.
The union had previously said that members have the burden of proving their infections were job related, a task which can frequently prove difficult.
There have been several small clusters at fire houses around Oahu, both job-related and through other exposure.
HFD Chief Manuel Neves said firefighters forced to quarantine on are on paid administrative leave, but if they test positive for the virus, they must use sick leave.
If they want workers compensation, they have to apply.
”It’s a process set up through the Mayor’s directive,” Neves said, “All city agencies should be handling it the exact same way. So we’re not doing anything different than any other city agency is doing.”
Lee took exception to that argument, citing the 24-hour shifts firefighters work.
“We are different from the other city employees,” he said, “We eat, sleep, basically live (together). It’s a second household.”
Lee said social distancing in a fire house or truck is nearly impossible, and responding to medical calls often require hands-on work to save patients.
The majority of the calls HFD received are medical related, and many are coronavirus cases.
After requests for comment, Caldwell did respond to the HFAA Friday afternoon.
In a letter, he said firefighters are not being challenged on their claims and that the law does assume a coronavirus infection is work related.
The mayor also said it’s up to the employer, in this case HFD and the city, to prove it is not a legitimate workers compensation claim.
He also pointed out that a dozen firefighters have applied so far and that all have been approved for benefits.
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