Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Work Injury Fantasy League

That is what I like to call the workers compensation system here in Illinois.

Blogger Alert: I want to be very clear that I am not singling out a particular segment of the workforce based on the links provided. My cynicism extends across the board. The term “union” appears in this article as an example of lobbying only. It does not reflect my view of unions either way, so save the vitriol.

As part of my job, I handle work injury claims for my company. We are self-insured, which means that we have an insurance company process our claims, but I, in general terms, call the shots.

By law, companies are required to provide for “injured” employees. That might be by contracting with an insurance company who specializes in workers compensation insurance coverage, having a third party administered program or by entering the Illinois Risk Pool, where your claim goes out to any number of insurance companies who contracts with the state. But, as is the case with our company, we pay a premium that may be several hundred thousands of dollars and if we spend more than the premiums that are paid, then the owners have to write another check. Premiums are based on the previous three year injury claim history.

Now; I am going to get on my soap box.

If I am a newly-graduated lawyer, I am going to pack up and move to Illinois and take up residence in Cook, Will or Peoria County and open my practice to specialize in personal injury and work injury litigation. This will present the best opportunity to pay back your loans quickly and to establish your reputation among employees looking for their pot of gold. Word will travel quickly, just like the name of THAT doctor that will take you off work for a strained little finger.

Every couple of years here in Illinois, our statehouse starts rumbling with talk of over-hauling the workers compensation system because it is such a costly program for employers. Unfortunately, the talk never makes it to action because of the strong lobby efforts by lawyers, unions and medical care providers. And their efforts have paid off, because Illinois ranks second in the nation for work comp costs. A work injury claim in Illinois is roughly 40% higher in costs than that same injury in just about any other state in our nation. Here is where I blame the medical community as a work comp “accomplice”. Obviously, the “injury” has to be “work-related”, so a trip to the doctor establishes that link. RARELY, again, based on my experience, does a doctor rule out the notion that the “injury” could have occurred outside of work. The prevailing mind-set in Peoria seems to be that “everything happens at work”. That is my opinion; I don’t have facts to back it up (wink wink).

Before I get into the details of the latest outcry for work comp reform, I want you to imagine this: you have an employee with an old football injury to his right knee. Because your company does not do pre-employment physicals, any pre-existing conditions that come with the employee are said to be aggravated, if they so claim. In other words; in Illinois, if you aggravated it, you caused it and you buy the claim lock, stock and barrel. While the employee is unable to work, they draw Temporary Total Disability pay. So, if you earn $500 a week, you will get a check for $333 a week while you are off work. But it doesn’t end there. If you require surgery, your bills are paid 100% and at the end of the process, you receive a “settlement”. If you do it without an attorney, you get 100% of the settlement money. If you have an attorney, they get 20% of whatever the settlement amount is. But here is the beauty; if you have all of your loans insured, you make no payments while you are off work. All of the money that you receive is tax-free, including the settlement. Plus, on the following year’s taxes, your income will show a dramatic drop, so you will more than likely get every dime back that you paid in. In some cases, the employee actually makes MORE money than if he was at work, which is why many will fight to get taken off of work rather than work modified duty.  I am sure that I could think of others, but I am up against a hard deadline here!

And  “claimants” will be shown on video having “good days and bad days” (this is the defense used when an employee who is off work is caught doing things prohibited by their doctor-certified, off-work status). Video surveillance is legal but frowned upon by many arbitrators, so this tactic must be used sparingly and wisely. Note that the employee is now referred to as a “claimant”. That is because they have hired an attorney who has taken over their medical care and employment status, because, as they tell their “client/claimant”: employers are real bastards in this state.

The problem with what I described in the previous paragraph is that the process does little to motivate the employee into returning to work. At the end of the work comp process, some will simply take and spend their money and go to work for another unsuspecting company, where they most likely will file another claim of injury and start this maddening process all over again. Now; this is the cynicism in me, but I also realize that there are many good employees in the workforce who don’t try to game the system. However; I was actually asked by a new employee one time “where do I sign up for workmans comp?” Absolutely true. It is viewed by many with an intimate knowledge of state aid and unemployment benefits as just another government program to take advantage of. For the record, I despise the use of the term “workmans comp”. It is “workers compensation” or “workers comp”.

There is another paradox. If your company requires a post-accident drug screen and the “injured” employee tests positive for an illicit drug, they STILL collect work comp, because the system is based on the theory of “no fault”, but what I have witnessed is that the system is based on the idea that it is the employer’s fault and therefore, they pay. It is a system that is rife with abuse.

But, even with case after case of “questionable” claims with questionable outcomes, none of that has been enough to move legislators to DO an over-haul. Nope; it took a newspaper and their reporters to uncover work comp “irregularities” at the Menard Correctional facility to breathe new life into talks of work comp over-haul. And it was done with a FOIA request for emails and of course, if you have a case number, you can go right to the Illinois Workers Compensation Commission website and see who has filed a claim. I’ll be honest; I had no idea that putting a key into a cell door lock and turning it could be so hazardous to one’s health. In fact, in one case; it TOTALLY disabled a guard into retirement, where I am sure he receives a pay differential in addition to disability payments and all the while, he is seen painting, mowing and power-washing his garage. Must be those “good days” kicking in. The link to that story is provided at the end of the blog.

Did I mention that the WARDEN of Menard has his work comp claim and received a plus-$70,000 settlement? Check out the picture of him holding up fish that he caught, while he was “recovering” from surgery. Forward-thinking physical therapy?

AND, I didn’t know that a worker comp arbitrator could hear their OWN work comp case and pay themselves a settlement! There is growing evidence that it happened. In yet another case involving an arbitrator, she asked that her settlement be “fast-tracked” because she was “cash-strapped”. Ah; only in Illinois! You can’t possibly make this stuff up. The link is provided.

The stories in the links that I have provided speak for themselves. It is mind-boggling to anyone with a tacit understanding of workers compensation that a system designed to provide for the basic needs post injury for employees can deteriorate into a gift bag of abuse and outright fraud. It has become an entitlement program to employees at the expense of employers. “Impartiality” no longer exists and “compensability” is just about everything that is brought before the Commission. It has become a “retirement” strategy for some and a “get rich quick” scheme for others, including arbitrators.

When we talk about budget cutbacks, wages and benefits on unsustainable paths and costs associated with government intrusion creating an anti-employer climate, you get what we have in

So, when we talk about the “whys” in dealing with our problems nationwide with cutting budgets and maintaining services, I didn’t want us to forget that there are other costs beyond salaries and benefits. When you add insurance costs including workers compensation, that hole that we are in tends to get a little deeper.

But, the bigger message here is that I realize that we have taken a good program and corrupted it. There is plenty of fault to go around in this “no fault” system. What is happening isn’t even a waste; it’s criminal…as in illegal…as in insurance fraud, but just like employers proving that the injury didn’t happen at work, you would be shooting at a fly on the wall with a BB gun from one hundred yards and hitting it. It ain’t gonna happen! Rarely, if at all.

Workers' comp arbitrators under investigation are put on paid leave

Attorney general calls for fraud investigation into Menard worker's 'total disability' claim

'I can't do that every day': Corrections worker on total disability but still can do chores

Agency mum on workers' comp case; info on injury not available to public

'Beware the Carpal Tunnel!': State workers discuss 'flood' of workers' comp claims

Quinn on worker's comp probe: 'Any wrongdoing has got to be ferreted out'

Feds step in to investigate potential fraud in Illinois workers' comp cases

'We need a system that works': Quinn wants workers' comp reform plan to catch abuse

State Rep. Dwight Kay: Joint liability is a job-killer in Illinois

 The views and opinions expressed are those of the author, Art Goodrich, who also writes under the name ChiefReason.  They do not reflect the views and opinions of, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. Articles written by the author are protected by federal copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form.

Monday, April 4, 2011

CFSI Three Things to Do

Every spring marks the annual pilgrimage of firefighters to Washington DC to meet with those people who work for us. Those congressmen and senators and yes even the President whom we employ to do our bidding and represent us in matters related to our profession and our nation. This year there are several things which I think we need to take particular interest in as we speak with these "employees".

First I must confess that to to a very critical personal matter I will be unable to attend this year. I have sent a resolution along to the congressional fire services Institute national advisory board for a continuation of their support of our efforts to get hydroxocobalamin approved for the treatemnt of smoke inhalation. We must also contiue our efforts at finding faster and more efficent and cheeper routes of administration such as sublingual.

As always we also need to continue our efforts in securing funding for reccuring issues such as the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program, the safer program and our urban security initiatives program which provide significant resources to fire services around our nation.

But this year we have a particularly simple and I think incredibly important opportunity everyone attending the congressional fire services dinner and the Capitol Hill day should make an extra effort to visit the office one congressman John Larson and let him know you're behind him 110%. And here's why Congressman John Larson (CT-01) introduced legislation today to allow the American flag to be flown at half-staff in the event of the death of a first responder in the line of duty.

“First responders put their lives on the line to serve their communities on a daily basis and deserve the same recognition as public officials and our brave men and women in the Armed Forces,” Congressman Larson said. “These men and women are our friends, family and neighbors. In the event the unthinkable happens, they deserve the respect of having our flag flown at half-staff.”

The inspiration for the Honoring Hometown Heroes Act came from Windsor resident Jim McLoughlin who petitioned Congressman Larson to pursue the change to U.S. Code, Title 4, which regulates the use of the American flag. McLoughlin is a Hartford firefighter and is the Founder and Board Chairman of the National Honor Guard Commanders Association.

Currently, the law specifically allows the American Flag to be flown at half-staff following the death of any present or former government official or any member of the Armed Forces.

Three simple things, three very different things, three things that really matter when you're speaking to your representative. First remind them to support the continued evaluation and research into the use of hydroxocobalamin this will definitely save lives maybe even your own.

Secondly asked them to continue to support our fire act grants program, it is making a difference in important and significant ways. And third asked them to support Congressman Larson's legislation to amend US code title for to allow the American flag to be placed at half mast at the direction of the governor when a public safety official dies in the line of duty.

Personally I think it's about time that firefighters, law enforcement officers and EMS providers received the same level of respect and dignity as our elected officials do when they die while performing their duties.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

A New Worry is the Same Old Story

Disclaimer: The opinions and statements made in this blog are the author’s. The opinions and statements expressed are not the opinions and statements of anyone affiliated with the Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition, Fire Smoke Coalition or

What; me worry?

That’s what I thought when I saw the title on the cover of the March issue of Fire Chief Magazine and then I started obsessing about something else to worry about; as if we don’t have enough going on in our lives, communities, fire departments and the world in general.

Now and again; I like to blog on topics that interest me and hopefully, those who read my blogs.

Because I may not be that familiar with the subject matter at times, I will embark on a journey to educate myself, so that the finished product is technically correct. I believe that it is important for that thing we call “credibility”.

When an organization is included in the article, the credibility of the organization and the people who populate it is at stake and naturally, if I am the author of the article, my credibility would be on the line as well.

The first time that I talked to Shawn Longerich, Executive Director for the Cyanide Poisoning Treatment Coalition (CPTC), I was hooked. I knew right then and there that I wanted to advocate for such a worthy cause.

You know; “worthy” doesn’t do justice when describing the CPTC. “Noble”, “dedicated” and “life-saving/life-changing” are better descriptors.

Their board of directors reads like a who’s who of public and private sector champions.

The volume of information that is on the website on behalf of firefighter safety and health is significant.

That smoke in any form is unsafe and unhealthy has been in the public arena for some time. I have been looking into the effects of hydrogen cyanide (HCN) on firefighters since 2007, because we were seeing reports of otherwise healthy firefighters collapsing and dying on the fire ground or within mere hours of responding to a structural fire.

Then, the data from Providence, RI was released that validated suspicions that hydrogen cyanide (HCN) exposure was injuring and killing firefighters. This information has been available since 2007 at

Also, in 2007, the CPTC released a document entitled “Smoke: Perceptions, Myths and Misunderstandings” that goes into great detail on the hazards associated with breathing smoke and especially the carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen cyanide (HCN) that is present at fires.

In addition, NIOSH, NIST and the AMA have been collecting data on CO and HCN exposures in both firefighters AND civilians since 2003, when the Station Supper Club in West Warwick, RI caught fire and killed one hundred patrons and injured scores more. High levels of HCN were found in several victims and it is believed that the HCN inhibited the victims’ ability to think clearly enough to safely escape the fire.

So, as you can see, CO and HCN is not “a new worry” as the March issue of Fire Chief Magazine proclaims.

The article “House of Horrors”, has me concerned for many reasons.

First; the description of the Fire Smoke Coalition is shallow. It is more than “firefighters and medical personnel”. There are health and safety professionals, professors, medical doctors, chemists, hazardous substances experts and a vast network of professional resources that supports the Coalition’s mission.

Second; Shawn Longerich was referred to as both a “he” and a “she” in the article. There should be no confusion. Shawn is a very professional and intelligent female.

Third; a hazmat response to a cyanide incident has nothing to do with hydrogen cyanide as a product of combustion at a structural fire. Hazmat had no place in an article on the dangers of HCN in regards to inhalation of particulates that are found at structural fires both in the smoke and away from the smoke.

Fourth; in the same paragraph in the article that mentions hazmat, it also states: “Longerich admitted that there were no specific studies to support her claims about the effect of cyanide exposure on firefighter health”.

This is absolutely absurd and I don’t believe that Shawn admitted to anything. The CPTC, since its inception, has been a “study” in and of itself. Their very existence has been to gather data on anything that affects the health and safety of firefighters and especially where CO and HCN have been identified by health professionals as a clear and present danger to firefighters and civilians alike. As a result, much has been written and released on the proper pre-exposure protections and post-exposure protocols with regards to CO and HCN. I found it disconcerting to see the NFPA 704 sign for cyanide in an article about the presence of hydrogen cyanide that is found at structural fires.

What the fire service HASN’T seen are fatality REPORTS that cites AS THE CAUSE OF DEATH hydrogen cyanide poisoning, because cause of death investigations stop as soon as lethal levels of carbon monoxide are found in the victims’ system. Hydrogen cyanide has been present all along, but if you weren’t looking for it, you won’t know that it was there. Capiche?

Why is it that, if carbon monoxide is present, that hydrogen cyanide will also be present, but at 6 – 10 times greater volumes? Not to mention that hydrogen cyanide is 35 times MORE LETHAL than carbon monoxide!

But, what do you do if someone is exposed to dangerous levels of CO and HCN? Well, you wouldn’t know from reading the article that pre-hospital care including administering hydroxocobalamin would greatly improve mortality. You would use Cyanokit® (hydroxocobalamin) and NOT CAK to treat exposure victims.

And the last thing that bugged me about the article is that the author referred to monitoring for CO and HCN as “chemical monitoring devices”. No; they are GAS monitoring devices. When we are at the scene of a structural fire, we are monitoring the ATMOSPHERE and NOT drums of chemicals. Here is that confusion again. Gas…not chemical. Sheesh!

Yeah, I know; Glenn Bischoff has already released a statement through “Mutual Aid”; the Fire Chief blog on “Command Post”; an E supplement to Fire Chief Magazine. I am a subscriber.

And he said a lot of the right things that should be said after an article fails its intended audience. But, in my opinion, there was almost a “poo poo” undertone because there was more “right” with the article than what was “wrong”. That is the “not fast/not slow but half fast” doctrine being invoked. Once again; I am overwhelmed by our quest for mediocrity. I doubt that many “writers” could write were it not for Google, Wiki-everything and spell check. You know; hurry up and get it done because “I have a life outside of work, dammit”.

Oh and if you want to know what to do with hydrogen cyanide the chemical, you can go to the Emergency Response Guidebook and look up Guides 117, 131, 152 and 154.

Sorry, Fire Chief Magazine. You blew your “credibility" on this one.

Try this on: Smoke is bad. CO and HCN are toxic twins. CO kills the blood. HCN kills the organs. BOTH are present with combustion. SCBA needs to be worn until monitoring determines that the presence of both is minimal. IT’S NOT NEW!

But, you HAVE left me with a new worry.

The opinions and views expressed are those of the article’s author, Art Goodrich, who also writes as ChiefReason. They do not reflect the opinions and views of, Fire Engineering Magazine, PennWell Corporation or his dog, Chopper. All articles by the author are protected by federal copyright and cannot be reproduced in any form without expressed permission.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

A Promise Made

10 years ago you and I made a promise to never forget. Every firefighter reading this knows what I'm talking about. Never forgetting also means taking care of the families of our fallen, it also means being respectful, being dutiful and being protective of their memory and the legacy that they have passed on to us. Today we have an opportunity to honor that pledge, today the families of our fallen along with the families of those citizens that they strove to protect are involved in an extremely emotional and extremely personal struggle.

The work is well underway at the 9/11 Memorial at the Ground Zero site, it is fitting and proper that the nation does what it is doing. Although there is much happening there that we disagree with, it is hard to battle with the forces of political correctness and their ideologies. I have asked that we join together and petition the people working on this site to include the ranks of our fallen, the ages of those taken, remove all mention of the evil men who perpetuated this tragedy and to strive to give fitting and proper homage to our fallen and to this nation that was so gravely wounded.

So far all of our petitions have fallen on deaf ears, and perhaps it is my own prejudice and biases that motivate me to want to have our fallen recognized in a greater way. I make no apologies for these feelings. I pray to God that we have the strength to go forward and continue to support the families of our fallen, to continue to fight to have a memorial constructed perhaps in Washington DC to those responders of 9/11. But all of this pales in comparison to the struggle that the families are now finding themselves in. Please read this article which I have attached to this blog from the New York Times it speaks about the human remains which are still unidentified from 9/11.

Decency and common sense cry out for separate and dignified memorial site to these unidentified fallen, it is only fitting and proper that their families be allowed and the descendents of their families be allowed to visit those who were so shamefully taken from us on that tragic and mournful day. We will continue to fight for separate memorial to responders of 9/11 that is our duty, that is our promise that is our goal. First however we must stand with those families who lost sons and daughters husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, cousins and in laws. We must demand that should not this great nation provide a tomb for those remains?

Why hide these beautiful people seven stories below ground in a museum of all things when we have the capability, we have the opportunity, we have the responsibility to do better. I know not what specific direction we should take but I do know that I will stand with the families and I ask you to stand with them as well. It is time that the American fire service for once stand together undivided for that which we were born to do, for that are driven by our faith to do, for that which we cannot shirk to anyone else. We must care for those families.

I have asked our executive technical editor Glenn Corbett to keep us informed as to what is going on with the 9/11 Memorial and the human remains. Glenn will find us a direction, more than anyone else in the world I trust Glenn's leadership and Glenn's wisdom in this regard. I know Glenn will be working with Sally Regenhard and the other 9/11 families to help us find a solution to this incredibly moral dilemma. Now is the time for unity now is the time for strength now is a time for faith now is the time to do the right thing.Times story

Your brother Bobby

Friday, April 1, 2011

Journal Entry 8-What if the FAST/RIT/RIC Can't Make It?

First and foremost, what about FDIC 2011? Yet another incredible week in Indianapolis. If you've never been there, it's a must. Open an FDIC Club account. (Better than a Christmas club!) Put away $20.00 a week. Get yourself to Indy next year, somehow. You'll come back every year after that. After 21 FDIC's, take it from me. There is something for everyone. See you in 2012! Now to the business at hand. A fire department got a call to respond FAST to a structure fire in February. It was 0430, there was 6-8 inches of snow on the ground and it was still coming heavily. On a good day, it would take 17-20 minutes to respond to this town. This morning, it took them almost 45. In this area, this department was asked to provide this service to 20 area fire departments over time, as they are one of a few career departments in an area dominated by volunteer departments and they can guarantee a response most times. Some towns appear to be too far for them to be effective. One chief when questioned explained that it will take him 15 to 20 minutes to get on scene and get set and we'd be arriving right on time. (It's the nature of the beast.) The front seat officer admitted that a half mile from the firehouse, he said to the driver "this is pretty bad." That was the point to return and tell dispatch to contact the town in need and to get a closer unit. In fact they should not have the firehouse in the first place. So, they adjusted themselves, recounted the safety issues involved and went forward. The next thought was what was the incident commander thinking by even calling them on that morning, knowing that they so far away. He just followed his run card and ignored a good common sense approach. Tunnel vision. What good could they have done if within 10 or 15 ninutes into his operation, a crew went into the basement with the kitchen appliances on top of them? Were they going to wait for a far away FAST? WTF? In discussing this part if the issue with fellow chiefs and firefighters, my thoughts were that if you can't get a known, trained certified FAST/RIT/RIC team in to the scene quickly, call anyone! Every single firefighter has been trained to do search and rescue. Do I believe in the FAST/RIT/RIC concept? Yes. Do I think it's something we need? Absolutely. Am I willing to wait a half hour or 45 minutes for a unit to get my guys out? No way! Get me an engine or a truck company to stand by to get my guys out. At the very end of the day, a rescue is a rescue is a rescue. Taking the emotional part out of it that a brother or sister may be lost or trapped, there's little difference between FF Smith and Mrs. Smith laying unconcious on the second floor of a 2 1/2 story frame house. Send in a team and get them out. Let's not let the swing of the pendulum blind us to what else we can do for our people on the inside. Let's get out of the box and be aware. Your thoughts? Be well, stay well, stay safe, Ronnie K