Record disability claims reported by Portland police and firefighters

The city of Portland reported a record number of police and firefighter disability claims in fiscal 2021-2022, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic and last year’s expansion of firefighters’ presumptive work-related heart, lung and cancer conditions.

At the same time, total disability costs were down due to a drop in medical costs and less time off for each claim, according to Kim Mitchell, disability manager of Portland’s Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund.

Claims rose to 584, slightly up from the previous fiscal year’s 536 claims, but the fund paid out $6.3 million, a drop from $7.3 million in the prior year.

The record number of claims partly stemmed from firefighters and police testing positive for COVID-19 and needing to quarantine. The omicron variant caused a spike during the end of last year and early this year, according to Sam Hutchison, fund director.

More firefighters contracted COVID-19 because of their exposure sleeping in fire stations and public encounters on fire and medical calls, Mitchell said.

There also was an increase in post-traumatic stress disorder claims, though the fund didn’t have those numbers readily available.

The last two years of public safety disability claims marked a significant jump from the average during the decade before the pandemic, when the city typically received 300 to 350 claims a year, Mitchell said.

Portland public safety disability costs

Costs were slightly down in fiscal 2022 due to less time off work and reduced medical costs, according to the Portland Fire and Police Disability and Retirement fund.

The additional 200-plus claims presented “quite the workload” for the office, she said. In the city’s fall budget bump, the office sought and obtained money to add a disability claims analyst early next year to reduce the caseload per analyst.

In the fiscal year ending June 30, 2022, the fund reported 237 claims from police and 347 claims from firefighters. That compared to 240 police claims and 296 firefighter claims the prior year.

The fund approved 90% of the claims, denied 5% and others were withdrawn or considered incomplete or are still pending review.

The top causes for firefighters to miss work were the pandemic, injuries from lifting, over-exertion or slips and tripping. For police, the pandemic, injuries from assaults or altercations, car accidents and overexertion caused the most time loss.

About the same number of sworn officers or firefighters were off work on short-term disability in 2021-2022 compared to the year before: 407 vs. 402.

On June 30 of this year, 3.8% of the police and firefighting workforces were out on disability, up from recent years but far below the years before the city approved reforms to the disability fund.

Before 2007, the percentage of the city’s public safety workforce on disability was much higher, between 6% and 9% annually, Hutchison said.

Voters approved changes to the fund in 2006 requiring independent experts to decide disability claims and not police or firefighter peers on the fund’s board. Hutchinson said better management of claims and more return-to-work opportunities for injured police or firefighters have contributed to the falling percentage of people out on disability.

Time loss and medical costs

The cost of public safety workers’ time loss remained steady the last two years while the medical costs from disability claims dropped.

As for the rise in claims, some of the increase follows new state laws and rules adopted over the past several years that expanded benefits for police and firefighters.

In March 2020, the city’s public safety disability board adopted rules to ensure firefighters and police received disability benefits to cover time loss and medical treatment from COVID-19.

In June 2021, the Legislature passed a bill designating certain heart and lung conditions, such as hypertension, as presumed to be tied to work for Portland firefighters who have five or more years on the job. And this past June, lawmakers passed a bill adding certain cancers as presumed to stem from Portland firefighters’ work conditions.

The expanded benefits led to the “largest number of new claims in FPDR’s history,” according to the fund.

The public safety fund is unique among public pension funds because it’s financed by Portland taxpayers through annual property taxes. Each year, the city sets the tax in an amount equal to the fund’s administrative expenses and benefit costs. The tax rate for fiscal 2022 was $1.26 per $1,000 of real market value. That means the owner of a house assessed at $200,000 would pay $252 to the fund.

— Maxine Bernstein

Email; 503-221-8212

Follow on Twitter @maxoregonian

Our journalism needs your support. Please become a subscriber today at

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Lazy Cork
Enable registration in settings - general
Compare items
  • Total (0)
Shopping cart