Central Council of Appeal holds Emmen Municipality liable for former firefighter’s PTSD

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Firefighter’s prolonged exposure to trauma

The Central Council of Appeal has recently ruled that the Municipality of Emmen is responsible for the post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) developed by former firefighter Ruud Lohuis, according to NL Times.

The court recognised the municipality’s failure to provide appropriate aftercare to Mr Lohuis, who faced 25 traumatic incidents during his service.

Mr Lohuis served as a firefighter and diver at the Emmen fire brigade between 1982 and 1993.

Throughout his service, he was subjected to several distressing experiences that continue to have a significant impact on his mental health.

The aftermath of unresolved trauma

These encounters ranged from perilous diving incidents to dealing with the aftermath of fatal accidents, which often involved retrieving bodies from vehicles.

Mr Lohuis was also regularly faced with severely injured individuals, suicides, and numerous unsuccessful rescue attempts. His work incapacitation followed a distressing incident where a roof collapsed on him.

Despite the series of traumatic experiences, Mr Lohuis stated he received no aftercare for his trauma, leading to a decline in his personal life that resulted in the loss of his family, job, and friends.

In 2014, Mr Lohuis was diagnosed with PTSD by the mental health service in Emmen. While subsequent treatments have helped him manage his daily life better, he believes the damage to his relationships is irreversible.

Legal victory highlights importance of addressing PTSD among firefighters

Mr Lohuis sought justice from the Municipality of Emmen, attributing his mental health issues to his job.

While his initial objections and the initial court case were unsuccessful, the Central Appeals Tribunal – the highest court for civil servants – ruled in his favour in June.

According to Ferre van de Nadort, Mr Lohuis’s lawyer, the ruling signifies an “important turnaround” for aid workers.

“”PTSD has been recognised as an occupational disease by the police and the Ministry of Defense, but the fire brigade and other emergency services have not reached that stage yet. This opens the way for that,” he remarked.

Upon hearing the ruling, Mr Lohuis reflected, “That’s very important. I didn’t fight for nothing. It means a lot to our profession. I hope colleagues don’t have to go through the same thing as I have for the past 20 years.”

When approached for a comment, the Municipality of Emmen declined to discuss the ruling, citing the procedure as still ongoing.

They also refrained from making any statements about their (former) employees.

IFSJ Comment

This ruling marks an important milestone in recognising the mental health challenges that firefighters face. It underscores the need for appropriate support mechanisms, including aftercare, to mitigate the impact of PTSD on our brave firefighters.

Understanding and addressing firefighter PTSD can save families from the distress that Ruud Lohuis and many others have endured.

This landmark judgement sends a clear message to fire and rescue service providers everywhere: mental health is paramount, and ignoring it may have legal repercussions.

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