Injury In Training Class Qualifies For Disability Benefits

Illinois has a state law that provides continuing health insurance benefits to public safety employees and their dependents if the employee suffers a catastrophic injury or is killed in the line of duty. To be eligible for the benefits, the law enforcement officer or firefighter must be injured while responding “to what is reasonably believed to be an emergency, an unlawful act perpetrated by another, or during the investigation of a criminal act.”

Brian Lemmenes was a lieutenant with the Orland, Illinois Fire Department. Lemmenes originally injured his right knee in the course of testing a fire hose. Then, on September 17, 2002, he re-injured his right knee during a training exercise.

The training exercise was performed at an abandoned industrial building. Firefighters from different emergency departments and the firefighters participating in the training were informed that they should “respond as if it were an actual emergency.”

Lemmenes was told that “there was a firefighter that was trapped inside the building. The firefighter was running out of air, his personal distress alarm was going off, and that the firefighters needed to locate him and rescue him or he would perish.” Lemmenes suffered his knee injury while “twisting and turning and pulling the individual, trying to free him” from an unknown restraint.

Lemmenes filed an application for lifetime health insurance benefits under the Illinois statute. The issue presented to the Illinois Court of Appeals was whether a training exercise could qualify as the sort of “emergency” dictated by the statute.

The Court upheld the award of benefits to Lemmenes. The Court found that the key phrase in the statute was whether a firefighter or law enforcement officer “reasonably believed the situation to be an emergency.” The Court recounted that “the order given by the supervisors to rescue a trapped firefighter under kind conditions during a training exercise elicited a sense of urgency that called for immediate action – to which Lemmenes responded with prompt attention. Lemmenes arrived at the location on a fire engine with its emergency warning lights activated, and he was dressed in full turnouts, as he would have been dressed in any emergency situation. Also, his mask was blacked out in order to simulate live fire situations. Certainly these facts and circumstances presented a situation which was urgent and called for immediate action,” the definition of an emergency.

Lemmenes v. Orland Fire Protection Dist., 2010 WL 184375 (Ill. App. 1 Dist. 2010).

This article appears in the March 2010 issue