Can volunteer firefighters qualify for workers’ comp in New Jersey?
Both career and volunteer fire department members are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits in New Jersey. However, it is worth noting that workers’ compensation may not cover all injuries sustained by a volunteer firefighter—and even when an injury is covered, the amount received may not be enough to sustain the worker and his family.
New Jersey Workers’ Compensation Law
Under NJ Workers’ Compensation Law, any respiratory condition or impairment suffered by a volunteer firefighter will be treated as an occupational disease as long as:
- The condition develops or shows the first signs of illness during a period while the volunteer is an active member of the fire department.
- The disease first manifests itself within 90 days from an event that has been medically determined to be the cause of the illness.
- The volunteer has undergone a medical examination before beginning fire service which failed to discover signs of the condition, or medical staff failed to disclose the evidence or presence of respiratory disease or illness to the volunteer.
The good news is that a respiratory illness should be covered by workers’ compensation if these conditions are met. The bad news is that respiratory illnesses can range from treatable conditions—such as smoke inhalation and pneumonia—to lifelong chronic and even fatal diseases—such as asthma, COPD, or lung cancer. If a volunteer firefighter suffers a serious respiratory condition, he may be unable to perform his regular job, causing increased medical bills and a lack of future earning capacity.
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