No Workers’ Compensation Benefits For Volunteer Firefighter Injured While In Physical Training

David Hardt was a volunteer firefighter for the Town of Watertown, Connecticut, serving as deputy fire chief. Members of the Department were required to pass annual physical fitness examinations, but there were no additional physical fitness requirements for the Department. Although the Department did not have a structured physical fitness program, it arranged a weekly open gymnasium basketball program for the exclusive participation of its members. The program was voluntary, but Department leadership encouraged its members to participate.

Hardt injured his knee while playing basketball in the program. When his workers’ compensation claim was denied, Hardt appealed to the Connecticut Court of Appeals.

The Court upheld the denial of the claim. The operative Connecticut statute allows workers’ compensation benefits to volunteer firefighters for injuries “incurred while in training for or engaged in volunteer firefighter duty.” The Court found that the basketball program was not “training” as used in the statute. Instead, the Court held that the word “training” meant “the education, instruction or discipline of a person that is being trained in fire duties. Nothing in this definition persuades us that training for fire duties means training for the general physical demands of the position, as opposed to learning about and practicing the skills associated with fighting fires. Although we acknowledge that firefighting requires a certain degree of physical fitness, we are unable to conclude that members of volunteer fire departments are entitled to workers’ compensation for injuries sustained while they are engaged in purely voluntary physical fitness activities.”

Hardt v. Town of Watertown, 2006 WL 1028847 (Conn.App. 2006).

This article appears in the December 2006 issue