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Firefighting is one of the most dangerous occupations. As part of their duties, firefighters are exposed to many hazards such as noise, carbon monoxide and other respiratory irritants, which often results in hearing loss and can trigger cardiovascular events, such as sudden heart attacks.

Firefighters are exposed to noise from sirens, alarms, communication devices, pumps, engines, chainsaws and other pneumatic tools. The noise levels from these sources regularly exceed occupational exposure limits, which over time leads to noise induced hearing loss. In addition to hearing loss firefighters are also at risk to develop tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears.

Numerous studies have also demonstrated strong evidence linking firefighting to cardiac events. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of duty-related fatalities among fire fighters. According to a Harvard study the majority of on-duty heart related deaths and cardiac events in firefighters are work related and are precipitated by physical and toxic factors. The study demonstrated a markedly significant increase in likelihood of heart disease events during fire suppression, alarm response and return for alarms; and during rigorous physical training exercises. Moreover, sudden heart attacks and sudden cardiac deaths are 10 to 100 times more likely to occur during fire suppression activities compared to non-emergency situations.

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Homewood Firefighter is Awarded Workers' Compensation Benefits for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

In a recent decision issued by the Illinois Appellate Court (Scott Moran v. the Illinois Worker's Compensation Commission), the Court found that the claimant, Moran, was entitled to worker's compensation benefits after suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder following the death of a fellow firefighter that was under his command.

Moran was the commanding officer at the scene of a house fire on March 30, 2010. Following a sudden flashover, Moran witnessed firefighters coming out of the burning house dragging fellow firefighter, Brian Carey, who was severely injured. Moran called to secure an ambulance for Carey and continued to supervise the scene. Moran and his department were later informed that Carey had died from his injuries. Following this incident Moran was diagnosed and treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

In order to recover for psychological injury that stems from a work related stressor, a claimant must show that he suffered a sudden, severe emotional shock that produced a psychological injury. Moran was denied benefits at Arbitration. The Arbitrator held that Moran did not experience a sudden, severe emotional shock because he did not sustain a physical injury, did not witness the death and nor was involved in rescue or resuscitation efforts. In making her decision, the Arbitrator compared the claimant with other firefighters, rather than the general public and found that his "injury was dependent on his peculiar vicissitudes as he related to his work environment." In other words, the risk of another firefighter dying at the scene is a risk that is common to all firefighters. The Arbitrator's decision was affirmed by the Commission and subsequently affirmed by the Circuit Court. Moran filed an appeal to the Appellate Court.

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