Budget Cuts for Minneapolis Firefighters Lead to More Work-Related Injuries: What is the Actual Cost?

Three firefighters prepared to do their jobs look directly at the camera.

Last week, Minneapolis Fire Chief John Fruetel presented an eye-opening report to the Minneapolis City Counsel regarding the cost associated with the department’s workers’ compensation claims. Fruetel reported that since 2012 the cost of workers’ compensation benefits paid by the City has nearly doubled from previous years—to $2.4 million per year. According to Mark Lakosky, the president of the Minneapolis Firefighters Union Local 82, these injuries are the direct result of budget cuts. While budget cuts have decreased staffing, the volume of emergency calls has increased, resulting in fewer firefighters responding to fires and other emergency calls. This under-staffing, in turn, has put tremendous stress on the firefighters, resulting in more work-related injuries and workers’ compensation claims. By way of example, a study conducted by the Seattle Fire Department found that firefighter injuries declined by 35 percent when the department increased its staffing from three to four people.

The Minneapolis Fire Department has been losing 19 to 26 firefighters to long-term injuries every few years. Unfortunately, many of these injuries have resulted in permanent disability—e.g., multiple lumbar fusions, total knee replacements, and severe burn injuries. Most of the injuries sustained by Minneapolis firefighters are related to their duties as first responders including strenuous lifting, which results in back and leg issues. For example, firefighters in their role as first responders, have a duty to help other medical personnel with the transportation of patients and bodies from private homes into emergency vehicles. Despite the known ergonomic risks of lifting patients—especially those who are obese – it is the duty of a first responder or firefighter to attend to the needs of these patients. Firefighters and first responders many times suffer ergonomic injuries in the process of lifting and maneuvering an incapacitated or obese individual through small, cluttered, or confined spaces, and are often times exposed to other environmental dangers such as animals or toxins. These dangers are enhanced when there are fewer firefighters responding to emergencies because each firefighter must respond to more emergencies per shift and there are fewer firefighters present at each site to share in the work.

Mr. Fruetel stated that ideal staffing levels for the Minneapolis Fire Department would be 418 firefighters. Presently, the department only has 376 firefighters and more than twenty of these firefighters are on leave due to their work-related injuries. How do these numbers translate into more work-related injuries? Understaffing means that the number of runs firefighters are expected to participate in each night increases and there are fewer firefighters on each of these runs. A greater number of firefighters are injured when they are expected to handle more work during an emergency situation with fewer people to help.

Meuser Law Office, P.A. proudly represents dozens of Minneapolis firefighters and hundreds of police officers and firefighters across the state of Minnesota for workers’ compensation, personal injury, and PERA claims. Due to our years of experience, Meuser Law Office, P.A. is in the unique position of understanding the specific needs of firefighters who attempt to navigate what is often a difficult and complicated area of the law. Because Meuser Law Office, P.A. practices exclusively in workers’ compensationpersonal injury, and PERA duty disability and has thorough knowledge of each, we can handle all potential aspects of your claim to ensure that you’re able to maximize the total amount of your recovery. If you want to talk to an experienced, knowledgeable attorney, call Meuser Law Office, P.A. for a free, no-obligation consultation.