Courts ‘put out fires’ in fire stations

Autor: Direkt Aktuelno Društvo
11 minuta čitanja
FOTO: Pixabay

The Basic Court in Prijedor has issued a judgment obliging the City of Prijedor, specifically the Territorial Fire and Rescue Unit, to pay 48,200 BAM for non-material damage to firefighter S.B., who was seriously injured ten years ago while extinguishing a fire, eTrafika reports.

FOTO: Pixabay

Written by: Investigative Team of eTrafika

According to the judgment recently confirmed by the Prijedor District Court, in possession of our portal’s editorial team, the City of Prijedor is obligated to pay firefighter S.B. the following amounts: 20,000 BAM for physical pain endured, 7,500 BAM for suffered fear, 20,000 BAM for reduced life activities, and 700 BAM for disfigurement. The City is also required to cover the procedural costs amounting to 5,685 BAM.

Decades-long Struggle

The battle of this firefighter has lasted for more than a decade. The court’s decision has somewhat diminished the damage and injustice inflicted upon him, but the pain he endured and treated for years cannot be fully compensated. Alongside physical pain, he fought against windmills and a system that demonstrated a worrying neglect of institutions for an ordinary man, whose life activities were reduced by 40% due to an injury suffered while performing his job.

Namely, S.B., as a firefighter in Prijedor, has been working since 2003. He was injured while extinguishing a fire in a private house on July 26, 2013, when, from a height of about 4.5 meters, he fell through the roof. Everything happened towards the end of the intervention when he began to slip due to the landslide and collapse of the house structure. He fell through the roof, even though all the intervention protocols were properly followed. At that moment, it seemed that the injuries were not life-threatening, and S.B. was taken by colleagues to the headquarters of the Prijedor firefighters, and emergency medical services were called. He was sent for treatment to the Surgery Department of the hospital in Prijedor, where he was taken care of, and the first diagnosis was made.

Initially, doctors believed that the injuries were less severe than they actually were. Only after eight months, an MRI revealed a traumatic injury to the intervertebral cartilage of the lower back. Initially, non-operative treatment was advised, which did not yield satisfactory results. The pain intensified, and the injury eventually caused a disc herniation, vertebral slippage, and two surgical procedures for spine stabilization. Before the second surgery, there was a danger that S.B. could become paralyzed, and after the operation, doctors warned him that even a minor fall in the future could lead to a wheelchair.

Photo: Pixabay

The nature of these injuries is best illustrated by the fact that due to the injury, S.B. faces limitations in everyday life and cannot lift his child into his arms or perform household chores, which he used to do before the injury.

Series of Irregularities

Although it is undisputed that S.B. was injured at work while performing regular tasks, numerous “negligences” followed, preventing him from claiming any compensation and asserting his rights. All S.B. received was harassment, degradation, discrimination, and false promises of employment for his wife if he dropped the lawsuit.

“After the injury, the Territorial Fire and Rescue Unit in Prijedor did not complete and issue an injury report, or a Report on Workplace Injury, which they were obligated to do. Additionally, fire inspectors and labour protection inspectors should have visited the scene, but that also did not happen”, our source recounts.

He recalls that, after undergoing surgery, the then-commander attempted to retroactively create an injury report, which is illegal. The judgment reveals that the Report on Workplace Injury was issued only on January 26, 2016.

During the proceedings, the court also determined that the deputy legal representative in Prijedor, in an effort to challenge the lawsuit, unjustly claimed that the Territorial Fire and Rescue Unit in Prijedor had taken all workplace protection measures, as he failed to present evidence to establish this fact. Additionally, the risk assessment document was issued in 2015, and the court could not determine whether this document was in place at the time of the harmful event, even though it was an obligation according to the Law on Occupational Safety, making him responsible for the consequences of the accident.

Photo: Pixabay

Due to the injury and reduced work capacity, since September 2016, S.B. has been assigned to the role of a firefighter dispatcher, preventing him from further advancement in his job. This, together with three colleagues who also have reduced work capacity due to work-related injuries or illnesses, will cost them more in October 2020.

Namely, their firefighter status, acquired through passing a professional exam, was revoked at that time. They continued to work in the Territorial Fire and Rescue Unit in Prijedor but were assigned to positions that matched their remaining work capacity. According to the new job classification, they do not enjoy the same labour rights as other firefighters, and as a result, they did not receive a 15% salary increase like their colleagues. Consequently, a new lawsuit was filed against the City of Prijedor, and this case is currently ongoing in the Basic Court in Prijedor.

Numerous Examples

This is not the first case where the courts have had to ‘put out fires’ in fire stations due to the violation of labour rights. Firefighters in Trebinje also sued the City of Trebinje, seeking payment of the withheld salary increase of 15% for working in positions with increased risk. A total of 17 lawsuits are pending, and the Basic Court in Trebinje has already issued three judgments in favour of the firefighters.

Photo: Pixabay

In July 2017, the Fire Department in Kotor Varoš unlawfully dismissed three firefighters, and the Supreme Court of Republika Srpska ruled in their favour, determining that the dismissals were illegal. According to the judgment, they must be reinstated in their positions, and their outstanding salaries and contributions must be paid, costing the municipality of Kotor Varoš over 350,000 BAM. The money has not been paid, and the firefighters have not been reinstated.

Meanwhile, instead of the Fire Department from which three firefighters were dismissed, a new organizational unit of the municipality was formed – the Territorial Fire and Rescue Unit Kotor Varoš. The municipality tried to argue that compensation should come from the Fire Department rather than the municipality, which took over all its assets and obligations. Due to this, the municipality filed an objection, which the Basic Court in Kotor Varoš rejected, ruling in favour of the firefighters. However, the decision is not yet final. Due to the entire case, the Banja Luka Police submitted a report in late November of last year to the Banja Luka District Public Prosecutor’s Office against the mayor of Kotor Varoš, Zdenko Sakan, on suspicion of committing the criminal offence of non-enforcement of a court judgment.

In Vlasenica, the Municipal Assembly decided to abolish the Fire Department at the beginning of last year, leading to many firefighters being dismissed afterwards.

Bubić: One-Third of Firefighters Lack Decent Salaries

Savo Bubić, president of the Association of Firefighters-Rescuers of Republika Srpska, states that the association was formed as a means to protect the rights of firefighters. Unfortunately, the association lacks the power to represent anyone, and all firefighters must pursue legal actions with the help of lawyers.

Photo: Pixabay

“We cannot sue anyone. We are here to support firefighters, as we did in the case of Trebinje and Vlasenica. Vlasenica municipality was without firefighting protection for a month, and it is fortunate that they did not need any interventions during that time, as who knows what could have happened otherwise”, says Bubić.

He emphasizes that, unfortunately, in Republika Srpska, no one really focuses on firefighting, and everything is taken for granted.

“It’s only when someone needs the help of firefighters that they realize the problems we face, from the conditions in the units, the lack of equipment and tools for work, and beyond. There is a lot of ‘diversity’ in firefighting, starting from the implementation of the Fire Protection Law to the Labor Law. When they classified us into the fourth salary group two years ago, half of the local self-governments followed it, and half did not. In Republika Srpska, there are between 1,200 and 1,300 firefighters, and one-third of them do not have decent salaries”, says Bubić for eTrafika.

As this concerns not just any officials, but heroes who put their lives on the line to protect people and their property, our interviewee adds that local authorities should express the respect they deserve in the future.

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