January 10, 2003
firefighter injured in Colorado blazes denied
By Jeff Armstrong
A Miqmaq firefighter who fractured her pelvis battling
Colorado wildfires which ravaged the state last year says she has
an equally formidable adversary in the form of the federal bureaucracy.
Working under contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs,
Kathy Kingbird has been waiting for federal workers’ compensation since
filed for a 45-day continuance of pay on July 2, one day after breaking
on a steep slope in a forest near Colorado Springs. Six months later,
collected nothing from her disabling injury but a growing pile of
Kingbird was featured in news reports last summer as a hero
for her role in fighting fires which ultimately claimed the lives of
her comrades and nearly one million acres of forest land. Today, she is
forgotten casualty, reduced to dependence on a $200 monthly state
Assistance check and the support of her friends.
Kingbird, age 30, walks with a pronounced limp and
occasionally with the assistance of a cane. Although her pain is
the discomfort is constant, she says.
Her problems began with a misdiagnosis. Initially treated at
Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs, Kingbird was subjected to
medical tests which identified only contusions, or bruises. “Bones,
soft tissues are within normal limits,” the hospital reported.
Back in Bemidji, MeritCare clinic prescribed a regimen of
physical therapy inappropriate for the treatment of a pelvic fracture.
said medical professionals refused to believe the extent of her pain.
“They tried to tell me it was all in my head,” she said.
It was not until Nov. 6 that MeritCare physician William G.
Muller located “a fracture of the pelvis in 2 spots… Patient was
starting July 1, 2002 and actually continues to be disabled now.”
regretted that “her medical diagnosis was missed for some time.”
In a bewildering series of responses to Kingbird’s claims,
the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs
then approved, only to again deny, her application for benefits.
On Aug. 21, federal claims examiner Craig Johnson determined
that the “information submitted with your claim is insufficient to
that you sustained an injury on the above date.” Kingbird was given a
deadline to file additional medical documentation.
A month later, on Sept. 23, Johnson wrote Kingbird to
“notify you that your claim has been accepted for the condition of…left
flexor strain.” Three days later, on Sept. 26, Johnson wrote to the BIA
request employment information in order to “determine the correct
to compensation.” However, on the very same day, the examiner wrote to
that: “We are unable to issue payment at this time because all claims
compensation must be supported by medical evidence. You have not
sufficient medical evidence that your work related injury of 07/01/2002
you totally disabled from work.”
Yet even before identifying the pelvic fractures, MeritCare
Clinic had filled out three workability reports verifying Kingbird’s
to work through Sept. 18. Upon receiving Dr. Muller’s revised
wrote to Johnson Nov. 18 to inform him that a bone scan “showed that my
was fractured in two places. I am still in pain and I still have a
time with my disability.”
Johnson failed to reply.
On Dec. 23, Kingbird wrote Johnson again “in hopes that you
will respond to my previous letters I have sent before…I am asking for
assistance, Mr. Johnson. I am a Wildland Fire Fighter. When I got hurt,
doing my job, fighting wildland fires. I have not been doing much of
since I got hurt. I hope that the documents I am sending you will be
enough for my claim of compensation.”
Federal workers’ compensation and BIA officials could not be
reached for comment.