Firefighter Receives Disability Retirement for PTSD

Joseph  Battersby began employment as a Boston Fire Fighter in January 1991. He was dispatched to a multi-family building fire on August 16, 2008 along with a Lieutenant who was not the usual Lieutenant he worked with, and one other Fire Fighter. As he had often done, Mr. Battersby was the first inside the building carrying the hoseline. He thought the Lieutenant was behind him. There was concern a baby might be inside the building. Mr. Battersby looked around and found no one. His radio fell off his gear and he could not locate it due to thick smoke. There was no water through his hoseline. He took off his mask to locate his radio. It was wrapped around the hoseline and inaccessible as he began to succumb to the smoke. He became unable to function. He was inside about twenty minutes. He recalls being dragged out of the building and brought to the Engine truck. From there, he was brought to Massachusetts General Hospital because of heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. He received oxygen and IV fluids for about seven hours before being released and brought back to his Engine house where he was released to go home. The record of his treatment at the hospital noted treatment by Dr. William Tollefsen for dehydration and smoke inhalation that had exacerbated an asthma condition. The incident was reported to the Fire Department as smoke inhalation with no information about any psychological trauma.

Mr. Battersby stayed out from work. He received G.L. c. 41, § 111F (IOD) benefits until October 20, 2008, when his condition was no longer found to be job related. He continued treatment for anxiety.

He had a psychiatric evaluation conducted by a psychiatrist with the Lahey Clinic. He was diagnosed as having a major depressive disorder with psychosis. He was further diagnosed with “severe symptoms of PTST  [post-traumatic stress disorder] triggered by the events of August 16th, 2008.” His PTSD symptoms included “flashbacks, insomnia, nightmares, hypervigilance, anxiety and intrusive thoughts.” He was determined to be “psychiatrically disabled” from performing his duties as a Boston Firefighter.

He reported receiving telephone calls and a letter from the Boston Fire Department informing him that he would need to start using his sick time and vacation time because he was no longer found to be out from work due to any job connected injury. He expressed his feelings “that there is no one he can trust in the fire department and feels angry and that he needs to retire.” He was further diagnosed with acute stress reaction and anxiety. He stated that he “had been extremely stressed and upset about the idea of going back into the same work environment that triggered his illnesses.

Mr. Battersby filed a written resignation and intent to retire letter with the Boston Fire Department, dated December 4, 2008, to be effective the next day. His employer accepted his resignation as a voluntary separation from service. He sought a superannuation retirement. By letter of February 9, 2009, the Boston Fire Department was informed by the Boston Retirement Board that it approved Mr. Battersby’s superannuation retirement to become effective December 5, 2008.

On December 26, 2008, Battersby’s treatment providers produced a detailed report about his mental health condition and their treatment of him for purposes of an accidental disability retirement application. At that time, he was found to be unable to work at any job.

Mr. Battersby filed an application for accidental disability retirement benefits on February 25, 2009. In the Employer’s Statement, the Boston Fire Department wrote, “the Fire Department does not support Joseph Battersby’s application for accidental disability retiremnet as there is no medical or psychological documentation or incident reports within his departmental medical file to support this claim. Furthermore, Joseph Battersby retired from the Boston Fire Department in December 2008.

On appeal, Mr. Battersby was awarded an accidental disability retirement. The rationale for the award was that he satisfied his burden of proof on causation. There was no other competing life event in the record that explains his disability. The medical opinion evidence gone far enough to prove the psychiatric injury at the August 16, 2008 fire was the most important of all triggers to his current state of disability, and it does. The non-medical facts show something happened to Mr. Battersby during that time he was in the fire consistent with the claim he made, and they do. Mr. Battersby’s testimony and his accounts given to mental health providers within weeks of the fire, show he experienced the fire as a very frightening event in addition to having smoke inhalation difficulties.

Therefore, the decision of the Boston Retirement Board was reversed, and Mr. Battersby was awarded accidental disability retirement benefits.