Navigation Top
AGO Logo Graphic
AGO Header Image
File a Complaint
Contact the AGO
AGO 1956 No. 251 - April 23, 1956
AGO Opinion Header Image
Don Eastvold | 1953-1956 | Attorney General of Washington

CIVIL DEFENSE ‑- COMPENSATION FOR INJURIES ‑- AUXILIARY FIREMEN

 Auxiliary firemen who are registered and hold an identification card for the purpose of engaging in authorized civil defense fire‑fighting service, are eligible for compensation for injuries received, within the limits of the legislative appropriation therefor, when engaged in a training program, or while fighting fires pursuant to the approved plan for activating such units.

                                                               - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                   April 23, 1956

 Honorable Dale M. Nordquist
State Senator
Twentieth District
P.O. Box 210
Centralia, Washington                                                                            
Cite as:  AGO 55-57 No. 251

 Dear Sir:                                                                                                              

             We acknowledge receipt of your request for an opinion on the following questions:

             Are the members of an auxiliary fire department, organized under the Civil Defense Act, covered by the compensation provisions of the Act:

             1.         When engaged in fire drills.

             2.         When helping extinguish a routine fire.

             3.         When helping extinguish a major fire.

             We answer your questions in the affirmative under the conditions as hereinafter outlined.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

             It is provided by RCW 38.52.260 (1953 Supp.) that

             "Compensation shall be furnished to a civil defense worker . . . for any injury arising out of and occurring in the course of his activities as a civil defense worker, and for the death of any such worker if the injury proximately causes death, in those cases where the following conditions occur:

             "(1) Where, at the time of the injury the civil defense worker is performing services as a civil defense worker, and is acting within the course of his duties as a civil defense worker.

             "(2) Where, at the time of the injury the local organization for civil defense with which the civil defense worker is registered is an approved local organization for civil defense.

             "(3) Where the injury is proximately caused by his service as a civil defense worker, either with or without negligence.

             "(4) Where the injury is not caused by the intoxication of the injured civil defense worker.

             "(5) Where the injury is not intentionally self-inflicted."

             The terms used in this section are defined in RCW 38.52.010 (1955 Supp.) as follows:

             "As used in this chapter:

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            "'Civil defense' means the preparation for and the carrying out of all emergency functions, other than functions for which the military forces are primarily responsible, to minimize and repair injury and damage resulting from disasters caused by enemy attack, sabotage, or other hostile action, or by fire, flood, storm, earthquake, or other natural causes.  These functions include, without limitation, fire fighting services, police services, medical and health services, rescue, engineering, air raid warning services, communications, radiological, chemical and other special weapons defense, evacuation of persons from stricken areas, emergency welfare services, emergency transportation, existing or properly assigned functions of plant protection, temporary restoration of public utility services and other functions related to civilian protection, together with all other activities necessary or incidental to the preparation and for carrying out of the foregoing functions.

             ". . .

             "'Civil defense worker' means any person who is registered with a state or local civil defense organization and holds an identification card issued by the state or local civil defense director for the purpose of engaging in authorized civil defense service or is an employee of the state of Washington or any political subdivision thereof who is called upon to perform civil defense service.

             "'Civil defense service' means and includes all activities authorized by and carried on pursuant to the provisions of the Washington civil defense act of 1951, including training  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] necessary or proper to engage in such activities.

             "'Injury' as used in this chapter shall mean and include accidental injuries and/ or occupational diseases arising out of civil defense service."

             RCW 38.52.310 provides that the state department of civil defense shall establish rules and regulations specifying various classes of civil defense workers, the scope of their duties, and the conditions under which they shall be deemed covered by the chapter.

             In so far as your inquiry is concerned, sections 4 and 5 of regulation No. 2 of the operation plan of the state department of civil defense promulgated May 25, 1953, by the director and approved by the governor, provide as follows:

             Sec. 4. "Training shall be construed as participation in an organized civil defense class authorized by the State Director or by a local director for civil defense in which the class sessions are held at a regularly scheduled time and place with a record kept of the enrollment and attendance at each session.  Service by auxiliary police and auxiliary firemen with regular members of their respective organizations as an authorized part of their training shall be considered the same as attendance at a civil defense class."

             Sec. 5. "Civil Defense workers shall be deemed to be on duty during training as outlined in section 4 of this regulation, during test exercises conducted in accordance with Regulation 1, and in actual emergencies when called to duty by authorized civil defense officials.  Civil Defense auxiliary police and auxiliary firemen  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] are considered to be on civil defense duty when called to active service by their respective service chiefs with the approval of the local director of civil defense."

             We assume that the auxiliary firemen are fully qualified as "civil defense workers" as herein defined in that they are registered and hold an identification card for the purpose of engaging in the authorized civil defense fire‑fighting service.  As such, they become eligible for the coverage provided by the act if injured under the conditions prescribed in RCW 38.52.260.

             We have set out the statute (RCW 38.52.260) which outlines the conditions under which the state obligates itself to compensate injured civil defense workers, and the statute defining the terms used.  Simply stated, this means that any civil defense worker who is injured within the course and scope of performing a civil defense service is entitled to be compensated therefor.

             We conceive that considerable latitude may be, and is extended, to the various agencies in determining what may be included in civil defense activities.  In so far as your inquiry is concerned the activity involved is included in "disasters caused by . . . fire."  What is a disaster is not defined in the statute.  We have found inColorado Springs Electric Co. v. Soper, 38 Colo. 126, 88 Pac. 161, that

             "The word 'disaster' is defined to be misfortune, mishap, calamity; any unfortunate event especially sudden or great misfortune; a word used with much latitude, but most appropriately for some unforeseen event of a very distressing or overwhelming nature. . . ."

             Based on the foregoing provisions, we answer your specific questions as follows:

              [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            1. When the conditions of RCW 38.52.260 are met, a duly registered auxiliary fireman, while engaged in the training necessary or proper to perform fire fighting services under a local organization functioning in accordance with the state plan and program, is entitled to compensation as provided by the act (RCW 38.52.050 (c); sec. 4, regulation 2,supra).

             2. 3. Under the provisions of the act and the regulation as hereinbefore set out, we conclude that auxiliary civil defense firemen would be engaged in a civil defense service while engaged in helping extinguish a routine or a major fire where, pursuant to the plan for activating civil defense activities, they were called to duty by their respective chiefs with the approval of the local director of civil defense.  As pointed out before, civil defense services are designed to provide a standby, trained and prepared, service for disasters.  What is a disaster authorizing the activation of civil defense forces is determined primarily by the local director of civil defense pursuant to a plan approved by the state director.

             Doubtless, cognizant of the fact that local organizations might be prone to expand their civil defense services to augment normal functions of government in instances not reaching disaster proportions the legislature has provided by RCW 38.52.280 (1953 Supp.) that

             "No compensation or benefit shall be paid or furnished to civil defense workers or their dependents pursuant to this chapter except from money appropriated for the purpose of this chapter."

             We point out this last as a limitation on the availability of compensation for injuries covered by the civil defense act, in addition to requirements for eligibility.  In other words, eligible civil defense workers are limited in the compensation payable to the money appropriated therefor.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            We trust the foregoing analysis will be helpful to you.

 Very truly yours,
DON EASTVOLD
Attorney General 

MITCHELL DOUMIT
Assistant Attorney General

Content Bottom Graphic
AGO Logo