Highlights of Noteworthy Decisions

Decision 1313 14
B. Kalvin - B. Wheeler - K. Hoskin
  • Firefighter
  • Stress, mental
  • Board Directives and Guidelines (stress, mental) (traumatic event)
  • Board Directives and Guidelines (stress, mental) (unexpected event)

A firefighter appealed a decision of the Appeals Resolution Officer denying the worker entitlement for traumatic mental stress.

The worker related his condition to three incidents. The first incident was in 1984, when he attended at the scene of a motor vehicle accident in which two women burned to death in a car. The worker had to enter the car in order to assist. The second incident was in 1992, when the worker attended at the scene in which a woman came out carrying her three-year old son who had third degree burns to 80% of his body. The boy later died. The third incident was in 2002, when the worker attended at the scene of a motor vehicle accident in which one woman was killed and there were other injuries to other victims including a child with broken legs.
In order to be entitled to benefits for traumatic mental stress under Board policy, the worker must have been exposed to events that are objectively traumatic, the events must be unexpected in the normal course of the worker's employment and the events must be the cause of the worker's stress as manifested by an acute or delayed reaction.
The Panel agreed with the approach that determination of whether an event is traumatic is determined by reference of an average person or worker. Once it is determined that such an event occurred, the question of whether the event caused the worker to suffer from mental stress is determined by reference to the Tribunal's usual test for causation of whether the incident significantly contributed to the worker's mental stress.
Applying this test, the Panel found that the three incidents in question were clearly objectively traumatic. The Panel further found that they were unexpected in the normal course of the worker's employment. In making this finding, the Panel noted that the 1984 incident was the first in which the worker had encountered a person who had burned to death and that he did not have another such encounter until 1992. While it was within the scope and requirement of his job to deal with such events when they did occur, that did not mean that the horrific incidents in this case were normal and routine events or that the worker could be expected to encounter them in the normal and daily course of his duties. The Panel also noted that the worker had been a firefighter for over 30 years and that his mental stress claim is based on only three particularly traumatic events that occurred during the course of his career.
There may have been co-existing personal stressors in the worker's life but the incidents in question contributed significantly to the worker's stress condition.
The appeal was allowed.