Pursuant to G.L. c. 32 s. 16(4), the Petitioner, Paul Piquette, is appealing from the
January 30, 2007 decision of the Respondent, State Board of Retirement (SBR), denying
his application for Section 7 accidental disability retirement benefits. (Exhibit 1). The
appeal was timely filed. (Exhibit 2). A hearing was held on February 27, 2008 at the
offices of the Division of Administrative Law Appeals (DALA), 98 North Washington
Street, Boston, MA.
At the hearing, eighteen exhibits were marked, including many multi-page
medical records and Workers' Compensation documents. The Petitioner testified in his
own behalf. Both parties stated their arguments for the record.
FINDINGS OF FACT
Based upon the testimony and documents submitted into the record in the above-
entitled matter, I hereby render the following findings of fact:
1. The Petitioner, Paul Piquette, d.o.b. 01/23/1956, began employment as an
Inventory Control Specialist II in the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and
Recreation Bureau of Fire Control on April 16, 1976. In or about the year 2000, his
functional title became "Federal Excess Property Screener". Early in his career, he
worked in and around the Mt. Tom ski area of Massachusetts. (Exhibits 4 and 6).
2. The Petitioner had a history of anxiety and depression early in his life. In
the years 1987 and 1988, he was experiencing marital problems prior to his divorce.
He saw a therapist and took the medication Zoloft. In 1998, his daughter was sexually
abused. The Petitioner sought therapy to cope with that incident. (Testimony).
3. There were many extended periods over his career when the Petitioner was
not on any medications for anxiety or depression. There were also times when he was on
varying doses of medications. (Id.).
4. The duties of an Inventory Specialist II included: maintaining fire equipment
such as fire vehicles and pumps; knowledge of firefighting, equipment and techniques
used in the prevention and suspension of wildland fires and other related duties. The
Petitioner performed all of these duties. He also trained and assisted municipal fire
departments concerning the technical expertise needed in wildlife fire suppression tactics,
and made presentations on western wildland fires and equipment. The Petitioner was
required to operate heavy equipment such as water tankers, bucket loaders, bulldozers
and other equipment. The Petitioner took part in teaching the U.S. Forestry Services red
card program for response to fires on National Forest land by the Massachusetts wild fire
The Petitioner was a certified red card holder and he responded to wildland fires.
He was a squad boss on the Massachusetts wildfire crew. He manned fire observation
towers and was required to be able to identify, locate and report wildland fires to
municipal fire departments. He directed forest fire units to coordinate with municipal
units in the initial attack on fires. He worked with spotter planes and military helicopters
involved in water drops.
In 2000, the Petitioner's functional title changed to "Inventory Specialist II".
In this role, he tagged and located property at various locations. He converted excess
vehicles into fire units. He inventories all excess federal property screened by District
He completed the paperwork necessary to effectuate the transfers. The Petitioner was
still required to respond to fires on a state and national basis up through early 2004.
(Testimony and Exhibits 4 and 14).
5. On one occasion in October 1986, the Petitioner was performing fire lookout
duty on Mt. Tom in Easthampton, MA. At approximately 2:00 A.M. he scaled up the
mountainside over sheer cliffs. While scaling the mountainside on his stomach, he came
to an impasse and he could feel no surface beneath his feet and no ledge to hold onto. He
just stayed frozen in place for approximately fifteen to twenty minutes and tried to
contemplate how to get up or down safely. He was three hundred feet up from the street
and he could see the lights of his truck down below. He has no doubt that he would have
died had he fallen. Finally, he moved and shimmied himself up while on his stomach and
grabbed onto a tree root system. He believed that it was somewhat miraculous that he
survived. (Testimony and Exhibit 15).
6. The Petitioner responded to wildfires fires on a state and national basis
throughout his career in addition to acting as a squad boss, crew boss or strike team
leader as needed. (Testimony and Exhibit 11).
7. In September 1992, the Petitioner was ordered to lead a Massachusetts crew
in fighting a fire in the state of Idaho. While he was putting the fire out on fallen debris
on the ground under a 100-150 ft. tall burning spruce tree, a helicopter flew overhead and
dumped 1000 gallons of water over him and the tree. He had to outrun the helicopter in
order to escape the barrage of water and burning, falling tree limbs. He literally ran for
his life. (Id.).
8. On March 12, 1993, the Petitioner reported to Frank E. Reilly, M.D. of the
Behavioral Health Services of Valley Medical Group that the previous September when
he was out west fighting a fire, he had been in a very dangerous situation. He thought he
might have "messed up". He stated that he was very scared and that some of the people
that he was working with were killed. The doctor noted that the Petitioner's fear of fire
fighting and the attendant fears of his own death were among the major factors in his
major depression at that time. The Petitioner was taking the antidepressant medication
Zoloft. Dr. Reilly increased the dosage. (Exhibit 10).
9. In 1996, the Petitioner and a Massachusetts crew were ordered to help fight a
fire in Montana. While he was chopping up a large tree branch, he heard his crew
members yell "get out of the way!". He saw the tree that was five feet thick falling
toward him and he leapt out of the way just as it came crashing down. The tree just
missed him. (Testimony and Exhibit 15).
10. The Petitioner was fighting a fire in Oregon in 1998. The fire began to burn
out of control and became an eighty foot wall of flames. He and his group of men were
trapped with no obvious way to get out. He yelled at the group of men to try to find an
area that had already been burned out and take cover with fireproof materials. He and
another crew member ended up lighting a backfire in order to stop the main fire. The
main fire started to cross over them. They had to retreat in their vehicle and travel over
the fire that they lit. They were in a truck and were surrounded by fire on all sides. The
truck sped up and the Petitioner and his partner escaped. After the incident, the Petitioner
was not sure how he made it out alive. He was quite disoriented for some time afterward.
11. On June 3, 1999, Dr. Reilly reported that the Petitioner had experienced some
symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder related to a fire in Russell, MA, but he wanted
to see how the fire fighting went during the upcoming summer before he thought of
transferring to Fisheries and Wildlife. (Exhibit 10).
12. On November 30, 1999, Licensed Social Worker Jennifer Parker of the
Valley Medical Group reported that the Petitioner was displaying a post traumatic
element in his presentation. She noted that he had been very emotional due to his
daughter's having been sexually assaulted by a babysitter. He also described a near death
experience while fighting the fire in Oregon in 1998. He indicated that, during the
Oregon incident, he had felt quite numb emotionally because he had to be the stable one
for the other crew members. He told Ms. Parker that, as a result of the disclosure of his
daughter's sexual abuse, more open feelings about the terror he felt during the Oregon
fire were coming to the forefront. (Id.).
13. On December 15, 1999, Gail Letendre, M.Ed. of the Valley Medical Group
reported that the Petitioner informed her that, since the Oregon fire, he had experienced
nightmares, had difficulty sleeping, and he had trouble fighting fires. He told her that
during a fire in Florida in late 1998 or early 1999, he did not have the adrenalin and
motivation that he normally did. The Petitioner told Ms. Letendre that this was the first
time that he had talked about his fear of fires since the Oregon fire. He became very
tearful. Ms. Letendre advised the Petitioner to talk to his crew chief about his feelings
and pursue ongoing counseling and therapy. (Id.).
14. The Petitioner was loathe to discuss his fear of fires with anyone at work. He
felt that he was supposed to be the strong, stoic leader and that it was neither strong nor
manly to discuss his emotions in this context. (Testimony).
15. The Petitioner was ordered to Wyoming to help fighting a brush fire in
the year 2000. Two people died fighting that fire. The wind spread the fire and covered
a truck carrying two men. The fire surrounded the truck that he and a crew member were
riding in. They were trying to spray the fire in an attempt to slow it down. The truck
tires caught fire. He went to jump out of the truck and his crew member yanked him
back in and sped up and away from the fire through the smoke and the flames. The
Petitioner stated that it was miraculous that he escaped form that fire. He was physically
shaky and emotionally labile following this fire. (Testimony and Exhibit 15).
16. In the early 2000's, the Petitioner assisted in fighting fires in Florida and
17. The Petitioner was also involved in fighting many fires in Massachusetts up
through 2004. During the winters, he participated in "prescribed burns" in the Miles
Standish State Forest in Plymouth, MA and on Cape Cod. (Id.).
18. The Petitioner again began to experience symptoms of depression and anxiety
after the Wyoming fire in 2000. He was dissatisfied with a Dr. Friedensen, whom he had
been seeing since Dr. Reilly's retirement, and he met with Dr. Kenneth Jaffe for the first
time on April 2, 2001.
On April 2, 2001, the Petitioner told Dr. Jaffe that he had recently been
isolated and withdrawn. He reported that he had experienced increased pressure in his
job because monies had been cut. He was thinking of transferring. He also indicated that
he had been anxious since childhood and that he was upset about his weight. At that
time, Dr. Jaffe increased the Petitioner's dosage of the medication Celexa for anxiety and
depression. This proved to be somewhat helpful. His work stress abated somewhat by
July 2001. (Testimony and Exhibit 10).
19. The Petitioner continued to see Dr. Jaffe every couple of months for support
and medication management. Dr. Jaffe's principal diagnoses at that time were: anxiety
and depression. (Id. and Exhibits 15, 17 and 18).
20. In January 2003, the Petitioner became increasingly depressed. He was
referred by Dr. Jaffe to a psychotherapist, Roberto Agrait. He began to talk about
painful, traumatic memories, including the near death experiences fighting fires. He
indicated that he had buried these memories but that they began to come to light along
with the increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. His symptoms were: frequent
nightmares related to the fires, increased anxiety, irritability, mood swings and crying
spells. The Petitioner was referred to a psychologist with expertise in treating post
traumatic stress disorder. (Exhibit 10).
21. The last fire that the Petitioner was involved in fighting was a brush fire in
Hamden, MA in 2003. (Exhibit 8).
22. On December 8, 2003, the Petitioner told Dr. Jaffe that he was worried about
his job security. He stated that he continued to have nightmares about fires and anxiety
about fighting fires. (Exhibit 10).
23. On January 14, 2004, the Petitioner told Dr. Jaffe that he hated his job and
that going into work stirred up bad memories of traumatic events while fighting fires
years ago. He stated that he could not do the job anymore. Dr. Jaffe recommended that
he stop working. (Id.).
24. The Petitioner stopped working on January 14, 2004. (Exhibit 6).
25. The Petitioner filed for Workers' Compensation benefits on
January 20, 2004. He reported that he was suffering from Major Depressive Disorder and
chronic PTSD resultant from the cumulative stress of many near death experiences
fighting fires over many years. This claim was eventually denied. (Id.).
26. In a therapy session on April 12, 2004, the Petitioner told the therapist, Dr.
Wolgin, that he understood that swallowing his fears about fire fighting over the years
was a coping mechanism did not allow him to process or integrate the memories. He felt
sad and disappointed about the loss of connection to his fellow fire fighters. (Exhibit 10).
27. On April 15, 2004, Dr. Jaffe reported that the Petitioner had been under his
care since April 2, 2001. The doctor noted that the Petitioner had seen a Dr. Friedenson
immediately prior to that and that he had also been seen for seven years by a Dr. Frank
Reilly prior to treating with Dr. Friedenson. Dr. Jaffe indicated that he himself had seen
the Petitioner for medication management and support therapy every one to three months.
Dr. Jaffe noted that the Petitioner had become significantly depressed and was referred to
Robert Agrait in 2003. When the Petitioner complained of frequent nightmares related to
the fires he had witnessed, increased anxiety and irritability, he was referred to PTSD
specialist Dr. Wolgin whom he had seen weekly since February 2004.
The Petitioner told Dr. Jaffe that discussing the traumatic events relating to his
fire fighting with Drs. Wolgin and Jaffe left him feeling "wasted" and that he remained
highly anxious and depressed. Dr. Jaffe's diagnoses were: Major Depressive Disorder,
recurrent; and, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, chronic.
Dr. Jaffe reported that, in his opinion, the Petitioner's current psychiatric
symptoms and disabilities were causally related to his employment with the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Dr. Jaffe added:
No single event has produced these symptoms. Rather,
his post-traumatic stress disorder has developed in
response to the accumulation of multiple traumatic
episodes and near death experiences of fighting
fires over the years. In layman's terms, he has "burned
I feel at the current time, the severity of his symptoms
of depression and post traumatic stress disorder prevent
him from returning to his previous job or working in any
other form of competitive employment.
28. On May 24, 2004, the Petitioner told Dr. Wolgin that he had received a call
from his crew boss inviting him to a function and that he had declined. He told Dr.
Wolgin that he had guilt feelings as fire season began again and he was not part of the
team. He expressed a sense of loss and grief related to his losing the identity of a fire
fighter, i.e. the sense of meaning, importance, uniqueness and rich experiences and the
connection with his brothers on the force. The Petitioner continued to meet with Dr.
Wolgin every two weeks. (Id.).
29. On November 24, 2004, Psychiatrist Alfred G. Jonas, M.D. performed an
Independent Medical Evaluation of the Petitioner. Dr. Jonas asked the Petitioner about
his out-of-state fire fighting activities. The Petitioner described the 1998 fire in Oregon
to the doctor in great detail. For a period of twenty minutes during that fire, he felt that
he was going to die. He indicated that he had never been injured in a fire or actually seen
anyone else injured or killed. He did see a rabbit running out of some brush. The rabbit
emitted a sound which was described as a human-like scream. It had been singed to the
skin. The Petitioner was not able to catch the animal to euthanize it before it ran back
into the brush. The Petitioner reported that, during the same fire, he and his team were in
a school bus getting ready to leave. The fire caught up to the bus and the flames actually
came into the windows. The Petitioner indicated that he lost some emotional control the
day after the "rabbit" and "school bus" events. He stated that he was upset and short-
tempered and that he had little memory of even how he got involved in the fire for about
six months thereafter.
Dr. Jonas's diagnoses included:
Axis I: Mr. Piquette describes an emotional state in which he eventually
became symptomatic on the basis of a long experience controlling fires.
It is not clear that he had the kinds of experiences that would technically
qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD, although this is the diagnosis offered by the current treaters. He seems to report having functioned well in his
profession. It was never clear in exploring with him why he left work in
January 2004. There was no incident that occurred at that time, and he
simply concludes that he was overwhelmed by the aggregate of his
experiences. In consideration of this kind of description, it would be
possible to offer a diagnosis of chronic adjustment disorder. A
diagnosis of PTSD would seem to be excessive for the circumstances
as they have been reported. In addition, Dr. Jaffe describes a
longstanding or even lifelong emotional fragility for Mr. Piquette, and
it is conceivable that in the absence of this background emotional state
or configuration, perhaps Mr. Piquette would not have been as
sensitive as he says he was to the work related experiences.
Causality: Causality for Mr. Piquette's having left work when he
did is unclear. He describes that his problem is his experience
fighting major fires, and the specific episodes that occurred
during such endeavor (sic). These do not rise to the level of
causing PTSD, and the last major fire Mr. Piquette fought was
in the year 2000. He has done other work for the
Commonwealth in terms of preemptive fires and managing brush
fires, and there is no indication that he did not work well. His
decision to leave work, or Dr. Jaffe's having perhaps encouraged
him to leave work, in January 2004 seems essentially arbitrary
under the circumstances as they have been described…
30. On December 1, 2004, Dr. Jaffe reiterated his opinion that the Petitioner was
totally and permanently disabled due to recurrent Major Depressive Disorder and chronic
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; and, that to a reasonable medical certainty, these
conditions were causally related to his employment as a firefighter with the
Commonwealth. Dr. Jaffe noted that the Petitioner continued to complain of frequent
nightmares related to traumatic experiences fighting fires. He reported that the Petitioner
also continued to struggle with mood swings, irritability, and emotional reactivity.
Dr. Jaffe reiterated:
No single incident has produced these symptoms. Rather,
his post traumatic stress disorder has developed in response
to the accumulation of multiple traumatic episodes and near
death experiences of fighting fires over the years…
31. The Petitioner underwent an independent psychiatric evaluation performed by
Psychiatrist Bruce Goderez, M.D. on April 24, 2005. The Petitioner summarized his
history of fire fighting in this evaluation. Dr. Goderez reported that the Petitioner had
been disoriented for some time after the 1998 Oregon fire, and, that after that fire and the
one in Montana (sic) in 2000, he had been physically shaky, emotionally labile, and given
to sudden outbursts of rage for some time after each fire. The doctor indicated that the
Petitioner had entered treatment within the next year, in 2001, after developing increasing
symptoms of anxiety and depression and becoming conscious of being more and more
reluctant to fight fires. Dr. Goderez stated that in 2003, the Petitioner finally told his
immediate supervisor that he was "losing his nerve". He was becoming increasingly
anxious before routine prescribed burns.
Dr. Goderez noted that the Petitioner continued to suffer from nightmares and that
he had an exacerbation of his symptoms whenever he was exposed to stimuli that
reminded him of fire fighting, such as seeing fire trucks go by and seeing reports of fires
Regarding the severity of the stressors that the Petitioner experienced, Dr. Goterez
The history makes it clear that the client has been in situations on
at least three occasions in which he was convinced that he was
about to die. In my experience with combat veterans, I have
come to understand that going through an experience in which one
is certain that he is about to die represents a profound trauma, and
often has long acting consequences. The client's psychological
style is a tendency to "tough it out", to suppress his emotions and
carry on regardless of how he is feeling. This "macho" style of
functioning is a valuable trait for people who must function in
hazardous situations, but over a long period of time, there is in
fact an accumulation of stress. In this case, we see the development
of an overt depressive syndrome starting sometime after the year 2000,
and reaching clinical proportions that caused him to stop working as
of January 2004.
Dr. Goterez concluded:
…I believe that the evidence is quite clear that this man has
developed a severe degree of posttraumatic stress symptomatology.
This includes a major depressive syndrome as well as anxiety.
There is no question in my mind and there is a direct causal
connection between his many years of fire fighting, and in
particular, the life-threatening experiences that he described,
and his clinical condition. I think that at the present time, he
remains quite symptomatic in spite of vigorous treatment, and
it is questionable if he would be able to hold down a job. Certainly,
he should not return to fire fighting or any other life threatening
(Exhibits 15 and 16).
32. The Petitioner applied for accidental disability retirement benefits on
October 26, 2005. (Exhibit 4).
33. Regional Medical Panel Doctors Susannah Sherry, Mark Friedman and
George Domniak evaluated the Petitioner on May 12, 2006. They answered the
Certificate "yes, yes, yes". The Doctors' diagnosis was "post traumatic stress
disorder". (Exhibit 8).
34. In the Panel's narrative report, Dr. Sherry indicated that the Petitioner
described for the Panel life threatening conditions over the years as a fire fighter. He
indicated that he had supervised fire fighters working under him and that he had been in
fires where men were trapped and killed. The Petitioner described himself as having
"survivor guilt". He told the Panel that he felt haunted by vivid and upsetting images of
those events and that it was miraculous that he had come through physically unscathed.
Dr. Sherry reported the Panel's conclusions:
1. DISABILITY: Having reviewed the job description and the
medical records, and based on Mr. Piquette's symptoms, the Panel
is of the opinion that he is incapable of performing the essential duties
of his job. He has been exposed to recurrent traumatic situations in
the course of his work as a fire fighter. He has struggled for years
with gradually increasing post traumatic stress symptoms, starting with
nightmares and interrupted sleep, and continuing in more recent years
with intense anxiety and avoidance. He has pursued a lengthy and
involved treatment regimen that has only partially improved his symptoms. It appears to be part of his character to try to be "strong",
and to minimize his dangerous experiences, and also, at times to
regard his associated anxiety as a sign of "weakness" and a source
2. PERMANANCE: He would not be likely to tolerate a return to his
job and his capacity (sic) should be considered permanent.
3. ACCIDENTAL: The incapacity is such as might be the natural and
proximate result of the hazard undergone on account of which retirement
is claimed. Regardless of his prior history of anxiety and depression,
the traumatic and dangerous nature of his work experiences correlates
significantly with his post traumatic stress disorder presentation.
35. On July 27, 2006, the SBR tabled its vote on the Petitioner's Section 7
application in order "to clarify his present job duties". (Exhibit 3).
36. On September 16, 2006, the SBR wrote to the Panel and informed the
Doctors that the Petitioner's job title from 2000 through 2004 was "Inventory
Coordinator II" and his work involved acting as a screener of "Federal Excess Property
Equipment". The board inquired whether this changed the Panel's original opinion.
A copy of the job description for "Inventory Coordinator II" was included with the letter.
37. On December 12, 2006, the Panel replied that after a review of the job
description that was enclosed, the Panel's opinion was unchanged. (Id.).
38. The SBR denied the Petitioner's Section 7 application on January 30, 2007.
39. The Petitioner filed a timely appeal. (Exhibit 2).
After a careful review of all of the testimony and documents in this case, I
have concluded that the Petitioner is entitled to prevail in this appeal. G.L.c. 32 s. 7
authorizes payment of Section 7 retirement benefits when an applicant proves total and
permanent disablility "by reason of a personal injury sustained or a hazard undergone as
a result of, and while in the performance of, his duties at some definite place and some
definite time." Blanchette v. CRAB, 20 Mass. App. Ct. 479, 482 (1985). Accordingly, in
order to meet his burden of proof, Paul Piquette must prove either: (1) that his disability
was caused by a single or series of work-related events; or, (2) that his employment
exposed him to an "identifiable condition…that is not common and necessary to all or a
great many occupations." (Id.). See also Zerofski's Case, 385 Mass. 590, 595 (1982)
and Kelly's Case, 394 Mass. 684, 685 (1985). Paul Piquette has met his burden of proof
on the second theory, his employment exposed him to an "identifiable condition not
common and necessary to all or a great many occupations". He is entitled to accidental
The Petitioner's disability has been shown to be the product of a gradual
deterioration following repeated exposures to life threatening circumstances during fire
fighting over several years and the related suppression of any negative emotional
reactions to these traumatic incidents. His symptoms manifested as early as 1993 after
the Idaho fire and resurfaced again in 1999 a few months after the Oregon fire. Then,
early in the year 2001, just a few months after the 2000 Wyoming fire, the Petitioern
again became symptomatic. From that point on, the nightmares, interrupted sleep,
heightened anxiety, muscle tension, hypervigilience and crying jags never abated.
Instead, these symptoms intensified over the next few years until the Petitioner became
overwhelmed by them in late 2003 and early 2004.
On January 14, 2004, Mr. Piquette, who had been continuously suffering from
the nightmares, interrupted sleep, increased irritability and anxiety, and avoidance,
informed his doctor that he could not do work associated with fire fighting any longer.
His stress levels were at a maximum. He was teary. Dr. Jaffe recognized at that time that
his patient needed to leave his employment. The Petitioner did so and did not return to
During the performance of his duties as an Inventory Coordinator II, the
Petitioner realized that he was unable to focus any longer and he was in a constant state
of heightened anxiety, muscle tension and hypervigilence. He could not contemplate
being involved in another fire. He had finally reported to his supervisor the symptoms he
had been feeling for several years. The emotional floodgates had opened. He could no
longer function around fire equipment or even in a teaching capacity.
The Petitioner has supported this "cumulative stress" claim with his completely
credible testimony and the medical reports of Drs. Jaffe, Wolgin and Goderez, as well as
the unanimous Panel findings. The Petitioner's intense and ever-increasing stress
reactions impacted his declining mental health. He has demonstrated with his compelling
testimony and more than a preponderance of the medical evidence that he qualifies for
accidental disability retirement.
After his last day of work on January 14, 2004, the Petitioner filed for Workers'
Compensation benefits. He filed for Section 7 benefits less than two years later, thus
satisfying the notice requirements of G.L.c. 32 s. 7, notwithstanding the denial of his
Chapter 152 claim.
The compelling non-medical evidence of the traumatic near death experiences
that confronted the Petitioner throughout his career up through the last fire he fought in
2003, and, his repeated exposure to fire fighting images and equipment into 2004, are not
common circumstances found in a great many occupations. Blanchette, supra. The
Petitioner has put forth a strong and credible case of an "identifiable condition" which the
Respondent has failed to refute.
The medical evidence, including the Panel Certificate, supports the Petitioner's
claim. I have credited the reports of Drs. Jaffe, Goderez, Wolgin and the Panel Doctors.
Their reports are all based on clinical experience and the facts of this case. They are not
based on specualtion and conjecture, unlike the report of Dr. Jonas, which I have failed to
The Panel's conclusion on the issue of disability is an accurate summary of the
Petitioner's medical and non-medical eviednce in this case. The Panel's analysis is sound
and there is no basis upon which to overturn the Panel's findings. Malden Retirement
Board v. CRAB, 1 Mass. App. 420 (1973). Dr. Sherry stated:
He is incapable of performing the essential duties of his job.
He has been exposed to recurrent traumatic situations in the
course of his work as a firefighter. He has struggled for
years with gradually increasing post traumatic stress symptoms,
starting with nightmares and interrupted sleep, and continuing
in more recent years with intense anxiety and avoidance. He has
pursued a lengthy and involved treatment regimen that has only
partially improved his symptoms. It appears to be part of his
character to try to be "strong" and to minimize his dangerous
experiences and also, at times, to regard his associated anxiety
as a sign of "weakness" and a source of shame.
The Panel's comments on the question of causation also accurately describe the
totality of the evidence in this case:
The incapacity is such as might be the natural and proximate
result of the hazard undergone on account of which retirement
is claimed. Regardless of his prior history of anxiety and
depression, the traumatic and dangerous nature of his work
experiences correlates significantly with his post traumatic
stress disorder presentation.
The argument of the SBR that there was no work related injury by virtue
of the Petitioner's having operated as an "Inventory Coordinator II" (IC II) and as a
screener of "Federal Express Property Equipment" is a red herring. The written job
description for this positon includes the requirement that the IC II respond to wild fires
on a state and national basis. The Petitioner did this many times over many years.
Further, he was still involved with planned burns and the teaching of fire fighting
strategies in late 2003 and early 2004. All aspects of fire fighting were central to the
Petitioner's position as he both trained fire fighters and provided fire equipment to
Based upon the foregoing, the decision of the SBR is hereby reversed; and, this
matter is remanded for the purpose of granting Paul Piquette's Section 7 application and
awarding him the benefits.
Division of Administrative Law Appeals,
DATED: May 9, 2008