KY Firefighters Fight For Testing, WC Benefits for COVID-19

30 Mar, 2020 Liz Carey


Louisville, KY ( – Firefighters in Kentucky are asking the governor to step in and ensure that they get workers’ compensation if they test positive for COVID-19, and that they get paid if they have to go into isolation.

Last week, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer announced that a Louisville firefighter was the first person in that city to test positive for the coronavirus. Through a relationship with a physician, the firefighter was able to get tested immediately and self-isolate.

Another firefighter in Lexington has also tested positive for the disease, according to releases from Gov. Andy Beshear.

Joe Baer, president of the Kentucky Professional Firefighters Association, said some of his members are telling him that their workers’ compensation claims for the disease are being denied. Baer said that he was working to get confirmation of that directly from the insurance companies.

The issue is getting the time in isolation covered by workers’ compensation, he said. While some firefighters are being told they have to be in isolation as a precaution while awaiting test results, whether or not they are getting paid for that time is the question.

“It’s all over the board here,” he said. “In some cities it’s presumptive and firefighters are covered for the time they’re off. In other cities, they want the firefighter to use their comp time. I’ve got one firefighter who was sent home because of his temperature, and told he would have to use his comp time, but he doesn’t have any. I’ve got another one who was sent home and his chief filed a claim on his behalf and the HR director in the city refused to send it in. So, it’s all over the place.”

The problem is establishing that the exposure was directly related to their work as a firefighter.

With the lack of testing and the delay in getting results, establishing the causal relationship has been difficult, Baer said. In some cases, the tests take up to nine days to come back.

So far, he said about a dozen firefighters have been tested. Two have come back positive. One test is pending. The KPFA represents about 3,000 professional firefighters, he said.

In the case in Louisville, the firefighter’s last shift was on a Friday. After calling in sick on Sunday, he was tested and the test came back positive. He told his station, and the station gave those working with him a choice of whether or not to self-isolate. In the Lexington case, once the firefighter turned up positive, the entire crew he was working with were sent home by the administration and told to self-isolate, Baer said.

Baer said he’s hearing similar stories from firefighters across the country.

In New Orleans, officials said 94 of the 170 emergency medical employees in the city have been exposed to the virus and at least 28 have been asked to self-isolation. In Kansas City, a firefighter tested positive last Thursday. 

"The KCFD firefighter that tested positive of COVID–19 followed department protocols," said Chief Donna Maize. "Upon first feeling ill, the firefighter called in sick to work and notified the Designated Representative."

Although the firefighter first reported his symptoms on March 20, the results of the testing for the virus were not received until March 25.

In Long Beach, Cal., a group of eight firefighters tested positive on March 25. All of them worked together at the same station, and all are being treated at home. The station was closed for cleaning. However, city officials said that others at the station may have been exposed, city officials said in a press release.

“The treatment of these firefighters, along with all of our current positive cases, remains our highest priority,” City Health Officer Dr. Anissa Davis said in a statement. “We are aware of the impact of these results on our community and understand the significant concerns this news brings. We are working diligently to identify potential situations where additional exposure may have occurred.”

In Omaha, Neb., a firefighter and a police officer tested positive. Firefighters in Berkeley, Sacramento, and Orange County, Cal., have also tested positive, as well as in Galveston and Indianapolis. 

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    About The Author

    • Liz Carey

      Liz Carey has worked as a writer, reporter and editor for nearly 25 years. First, as an investigative reporter for Gannett and later as the Vice President of a local Chamber of Commerce, Carey has covered everything from local government to the statehouse to the aerospace industry. Her work as a reporter, as well as her work in the community, have led her to become an advocate for the working poor, as well as the small business owner.

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