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Arizona firefighter badly injured in mulch fire challenges 'Firefighter's Rule'

The law prohibits injured firefighters and police officers from suing those whose negligence caused their injuries.

CAMP VERDE, Ariz. — An Arizona firefighter is recovering after he was badly burned while fighting a mulch fire in Yavapai County in July. But his physical recovery is only half the battle.

“They’ve had to make a cut here to relieve the pressure," said Kody Cox while showing 12 News the burns across his legs. "My left leg is about the same."

It has been a challenging month for Kody Cox. The fuels technician and secondary firefighter suffered third-degree burns across his legs and arms after being called to a large mulch fire at a transfer station in Camp Verde last month.

"It was totally unexpected," said Cox.

Cox was putting out hot spots when all of a sudden, the ground below him gave out, sending him waist-deep into materials more than 200 degrees.

“I immediately pulled down my sleeves on my arms and noticed there was some skin hanging.”

Cox was rushed to the helicopter, where doctors told him he would need emergency surgery and that he might lose his legs. 

“It’s hard to think about what could have happened. It’s a place you really don’t want to go," said Cox.

While recovering in the hospital, Cox contacted a lawyer.

“It’s always nice to check your bases especially if you do get injured," said Cox.

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That's when he was told about the "Firefighter's Rule," which prohibits firefighters and police officers from filing civil lawsuits after an injury, even if the injury is caused by obvious negligence.

“There has to be and there needs to be a remedy for people like Kody who are injured because of someone else’s fault, their negligent acts," said Mark Ryan, Cox's attorney.

Mark Ryan says Cox is receiving worker's compensation to cover his medical bills but believes that's not enough. He says the rule is outdated and unjust.

“The fact that we have a rule in Arizona that does not allow for a firefighter or a police officer to get any type of injuries when someone else caused it, it’s crazy," said Ryan.

Supporters of the rule say without it, some may be hesitant to call 911 and that first responders should not be allowed to sue based on the negligence they work to confront. 

But several states, including Minnesota and Florida, have overturned it. And Cox, along with his attorney, believe Arizona should be next.

“A lot of folks once they know about the rule it might kind of make them think a little more about why they’re doing the job," said Cox.

Cox and his attorney are not yet filing a lawsuit but hope his case can help change the law.

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