FIREFIGHTERS SENT TO FIGHT FIRES OUT OF STATE ARE LIKELY COVERED UNDER IOWA’S WORKERS’ COMPENSATION ACT
Recently, the wild fires on the west coast have gotten so out of control, smoke from the fires can be seen in the sky over most of the Midwest, including Iowa. As a result, some municipalities and other state organizations, have elected to send their firefighters to the west coast to help control the flames. Questions have emerged as to whether these firefighters will be covered under the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act. The answer is probably yes, because of 85.71(1)(a).
Iowa Code Section 85.71 is the statutory provision governing the subject matter jurisdiction of the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commission. The statute says that if an employee is working outside the State of Iowa and suffers an injury, that otherwise would have been covered under the act, the Commission has jurisdiction to hear that case, if certain conditions are met.
The most important provision as it relates to firefighters working outside of the state is Section 85.71(1)(a), which states that one way the Commission has jurisdiction over a claim is if, “The employer has a place of business in this state and the employee regularly works at or from that place of business.”
For firefighters responding to fires out of state, the employer would be their local municipality or state agency. The principal place of business would be where their fire house is located, or the area in which they normally respond to emergencies. As such, it is likely that a firefighter from Iowa, sent to fight wild fires on the west coast, will be covered under the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Act. Iowa Code § 85.71(1)(a).
To be clear, the Commission has never applied this section to find that a firefighter from Iowa was covered under the Workers’ Compensation Act for an injury sustained while fighting a fire out of state. Firefighter cases in Iowa are pretty rare to begin with and the current situation in 2020 is unique, to say the least. So while we cannot say with absolute certainty how the commission will treat such a case, finding subject matter jurisdiction through Section 85.71(1)(a) only seems logical at this time. For questions regarding a specific case, or general questions about compensation owed to an injured firefighter, please contact Paul Barta or Micah Hawker-Boehnke at 402-475-1075, for more information.