There has certainly been a lot of news about helmets and head gear in recent years, and St. Petersburg firefighters are also in the news. Research studies and expert testimony by esteemed medical professionals has led many different industries to consider just how well they are protecting their most precious commodities – their employees.
The National Football League, the World Wrestling Entertainment, and other such athletic organizations have faced scrutiny for this reason, but now the questions are being extended to other professional areas and some of those claims are hitting close to home for St. Petersburg residents.
In a recent report, a pending lawsuit was revealed to the public, which involves several retired and active Saint Petersburg firefighters. Under question in this case is the 1044 Cairns model firefighting helmet. They were produced by a Pennsylvania company and the Plaintiffs claim that they were poorly designed and, essentially, defective. The case suggests that these helmets led to many serious head and neck injuries, failing to properly protect the men and women in action.
The helmets are too heavy, according to the firefighters. They didn’t balance easily and, as such, left the men and women in greater danger of injury when operating in tight, smoke-filled, or confined spaces.
A helmet, regardless of the industry in question, must be several things at once. It must be lightweight, properly fitted, and capable of sustaining great force. When a helmet cannot do those things properly (and, in this instance, also provide a high level of heat resistance), then it fails to meet the needs of the wearer. Imagine placing an adult motorcycle helmet or bicycle helmet on a child. Naturally, it doesn’t fit well. It can be so heavy as to cause the child to have difficulty holding his or her head upright. Furthermore, the poor fit can allow the helmet to disrupt proper hearing and vision. Now, imagine wearing such a poorly fitting helmet into a burning building, while trying to battle flames, avoid obstacles, and to react quickly to the muted shouts of victims. One can easily see how important the helmet would be in this industry.
The City of St. Petersburg has remained a neutral party, and will not be part of the lawsuit, which would have required the fire department to acknowledge that the helmets were subpar, helmets which are currently being used by up to 90 percent of the today’s force.
Though the case remains within the city at the moment, the personal injury attorneys involved believe that it could go nationwide because the helmets were – and are — utilized throughout the country. In reports, the helmets were compared to bobble-head toys. They can cause the wearers to suffer serious, chronic musculoskeletal injuries. As so many people already know, once the neck or back is injured, it can be very difficult, and costly, to have the damage corrected. Residual pain and discomfort can be substantial enough to greatly impact a person’s quality of life.
It is important to understand that, as an employee, you do have rights. Your employer should be taking the necessary actions to provide a reasonably safe working environment. While firefighters, and others in similarly dangerous professions, do assume a great deal of risk in their job descriptions, they should be able to expect that they will be outfitted in the best possible safety gear. When that is not the case, they do have the right to seek legal assistance, as they have in this case.