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Marinwood Community Services v. Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board (Romo) (Court of Appeal, published) 82 C.C.C. 317

Applicant was a volunteer firefighter for Marinwood from 1989 to 1991. Marinwood had a total of seven paid firefighters and 24 volunteer firefighters in its department. These volunteer positions were very competitive as they would lead to paid positions as a firefighter. Marinwood provided workers’ compensation coverage for its volunteers. Subsequent to applicant’s employment with Marinwood as a volunteer he worked for Sonoma County as a volunteer firefighter and became a paid firefighter in the City of Mill Valley from 2006 through trial. While working for Mill Valley the applicant was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Applicant filed claims against all three of the fire departments where he had worked. Only Marinwood contested the application of the “cancer presumption.”

Marinwood contended it was not a regularly organized volunteer fire department within the meaning of Labor Code § 3361, and therefore applicant could not claim the status of employee under that section. Defendant argued that the applicant did not fall within Labor Code§ 3361 and therefore was excluded from employee status of by § 3352 (i) of the Labor Code.

The WCJ found that applicant was an active volunteer firefighter member of Marinwood within the meaning of Labor Code §§ 3212.1 and 3361 and that he was entitled to the extension of the presumption under § 3212.1 since he was within 120 months of the last date actually worked in the specified capacity. The petition for reconsideration was denied.

The Court of Appeal held that the language “volunteer fire department” is ambiguous in regard to whether it extends to a department comprised predominantly, but not exclusively, of volunteers. The WCAB’s interpretation of Labor Code § 3361 is reasonable, and the court gave it great weight. The WCAB’s interpretation is consistent with the purpose of the statutory scheme and the directive of Labor Code § 3202. The Court of Appeal also ruled that the WCAB’s determination that the extension of the cancer presumption ran from the date applicant last worked as a firefighter for any agency was also based on a reasonable interpretation of the relevant statutes.