Court: Municipality of Emmen liable for firefighter’s PTSD

The municipality of Emmen is liable for former firefighter Ruud Lohuis’s post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because it did not provide the proper aftercare following 25 traumatic incidents, the Central Council of Appeal ruled. The former firefighter is relieved by the ruling and plans to claim damages for the material and immaterial damages he suffered over the past 20 years, he told RTV Drenthe.

Lohuis was a firefighter and diver at the Emmen fire brigade between 1982 and 1993. During that time, he experienced no less than 25 traumatic incidents that still have a significant impact on his psyche, he told the broadcaster.

As a diver, he became entangled several times, nearly smothered due to polluted water, and retrieved many bodies from cars after fatal accidents. A police officer died under his hands after crashing into a tree. He dealt with seriously mutilated people, suicides, and several failed rescue attempts with persons – including children – in cars that ended up in the water. The final blow was when a roof collapsed on his head, making him incapacitated for work.

During this time, Lohuis became a “difficult man” for others to handle. He developed a short fuse, rage problems, trouble sleeping, and kept reliving traumatic experiences. He went to his managers but to no avail. “I wasn’t supposed to complain and just do my job. There was a macho culture. It’s all part of the job, and you shouldn’t complain.” He never received any aftercare for his trauma, he said. He ended up losing his family, his job, and his friends.

In 2014, the mental health service in Emmen finally diagnosed him with PTSD. Treatment since has helped Lohuis deal better with his daily life, but the damage to his family and friends has been done, he said.

The former firefighter appealed to the municipality of Emmen to hold it liable for his mental illness caused by his job. He lost that objection procedure and an initial court case, but the Central Appeals Tribunal – the highest court for civil servants – ruled in his favor in June. He sees it as a “confirmation” of what happened to him. “For more than 20 years, my symptoms weren’t taken seriously. I was not heard during all that time.”

According to Lohuis’s lawyer Ferre van de Nadort, the ruling is “an important turnaround” for aid workers. “PTSD has been recognized 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.”

Lohuis also considers that the biggest win. “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.”

The municipality of Emmen would not respond to RTV Drenthe’s questions about the ruling. “According to our information, the procedure is still ongoing. In addition, we do not make any statements about (former) employees,” a spokesperson told the broadcaster.

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