As first responders, you face a very real risk of exposure to communicable diseases, smoke, diesel exhaust, chemicals, hazardous waste, noise and any number of other harmful substances. You do not have to provide the scientific connection yourself, but need to be able to provide the basis for the connection: you have to be able to point out what you were exposed to, when you were exposed to it and in many cases, how often the exposure occurred.

You should save any documentation of an exposure. Examples of what to keep include:

  • Formal incident summaries
  • Newspaper accounts of a particular fire or emergency response involving exposure to harmful materials
  • Any incident reports of specific problems, such as being stuck with a needle and exposure to blood or exposure to cancer causing substances
  • Air quality studies of the equipment garage measuring diesel exhaust levels
  • Noise level studies
  • Keep your own journal of incidents you respond to
  • Emergency Room discharge papers

Memories fade and records maintained by your employer can be lost or disappear. Keeping independent records in a journal or creating a computer file is a good way to ensure important information will not be lost or forgotten.

As an example of the type of information you will need, you would want to be able to provide the number of fires you responded to in a given year, be able to document known and suspected exposures to communicable diseases and state whether any protective devices were provided by your employer and whether you were able to use them.

The mere fact that you are exposed to something harmful does not trigger a right to workers’ compensation benefits. If you develop a disability, there must be a scientific basis that the exposure contributes to a particular disability. Additionally, you will have to be able to show that the specific exposure, such as exposure to asbestos particles, occurred at work.