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posted: 5/17/2018 1:00 AM

Editorial: Line-of-duty pension a misguided gesture

Buffalo Grove officials should challenge fire department pension board ruling

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  • Buffalo Grove firefighters on the scene of a townhouse fire.

    Buffalo Grove firefighters on the scene of a townhouse fire.
    Christopher Placek/Daily Herald file photo

 

Those looking for ways to build a web of care and protection around a widow with four young children can find many avenues to help: Community fundraisers, job leads, assistance with the house and children, support and friendship.

What they can't do is push the obligation off onto someone else, in this case, the taxpayers of Buffalo Grove.

That's what three members of the village's Fire Department Pension Board voted to do by ruling firefighter/paramedic Kevin Hauber's colon cancer death was in the line of duty. That entitles his widow to receive Hauber's annual salary of $101,549 for the rest of her life.

We have every sympathy for Hauber's wife, children, family and friends. A Buffalo Grove native whose twin brother also is a Buffalo Grove firefighter/paramedic, Hauber had worked for the fire department since 1994. Many people speak of his dedication and professionalism, as well as his work with the Associated Firefighters of Illinois Honor Guard, which provides final honors to fallen firefighters throughout the state.

Yet, the desire to do good by a hardworking public servant who fought a horrible disease for four years is not a reason to artificially boost a public pension using unsubstantiated conclusions.

Buffalo Grove firefighter/paramedic Dan Pasquarella, who heads the pension board and joined another village firefighter and a retired firefighter in voting for the line-of-duty pension, said no specific information led the board majority to conclude Hauber's cancer was work-related.

"We did not have one specific incident to tie it to," he said. "The final say is with the pension board. So we determined it was a line-of-duty death."

Had the death not been judged to be in the line of duty, Hauber's widow would have received annual pension payments starting at $76,162 and dropping to about $60,000 once the children reach 18.

Village officials will decide whether to appeal the decision. The village "has a fiduciary duty to ensure that the decision by the Buffalo Grove Firefighter's Pension Fund Board is consistent with state law," Finance Director Scott Anderson said.

Either way, the case sets a precedent.

Can being a firefighter cause cancer? Many jobs might be linked to the disease, including repairing cars, farming, working in a factory, mining, flying commercial aircraft, working in a beauty salon, or having a stressful job.

The pension board's vote in Hauber's case comes across as a sympathy vote. We understand the sympathy for a family whose world has been turned upside down.

We don't understand the vote. Unless a rationale can be provided for a full-salary pension, the ruling should be challenged.

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