Buffalo Grove to appeal pension ruling for firefighter who died from cancer

The village of Buffalo Grove will appeal a decision from its Fire Pension Board granting line-of-duty death benefits to the family of a veteran firefighter who died this year after a lengthy battle with cancer, officials announced Wednesday.

The appeal will seek to overturn a first-of-its-kind ruling in Illinois in which the pension board declared Kevin Hauber's colon cancer was caused by his work as a firefighter.

If upheld, the pension board's 3-2 vote to grant line-of-duty benefits means Hauber's widow, Kimberly Hauber, would receive his annual salary of $101,549 for the rest of her life. If the village's appeal succeeds, she would receive annual pension payments starting at $76,162 and dropping to about $60,000 once her four daughters reach 18.

According to the village, the line-of-duty finding would add a $1.7 million liability to the firefighter pension fund.

Wednesday, Buffalo Grove officials filed a complaint for administrative review in Lake County court. In it, the village contends there is no clear evidence or research proving that firefighting has a direct or indirect causal relationship with colon cancer, or that Hauber was exposed to cancer-causing agents in his work.

"This is a sensitive and emotional issue for all of us," Village President Beverly Sussman said in announcing the appeal. "Kevin was beloved in Buffalo Grove and is greatly missed. The village believes Kimberly Hauber and her children are entitled to the surviving spouse benefit equal to 75 percent of Kevin's final salary.

"As leaders, we must ensure any increased pension liabilities that raise the property tax burden on residents, businesses and property owners are fairly levied; we believe this case does not meet the legal standard to justify a 100 percent line-of-duty death benefit."

Dan Pasquarella, a Buffalo Grove firefighter/paramedic who serves as pension board president, was not immediately available for comment Wednesday. He, along with another village firefighter and a retired firefighter who serve on the board, voted in favor of granting the line-of-duty benefits. Two non-firefighters on the panel opposed it.

Hauber, 51, died in January after a four-year battle with cancer. A Buffalo Grove firefighter since 1994, he left behind his wife and four young daughters.

In contradiction to the village's claims there are no clear links between firefighting and colon cancer, Pat Devaney, president of Associated Fire Fighters of Illinois, wrote a letter to the Daily Herald last month stating there is medical evidence backing the pension board.

"Kevin Hauber's death due to colon cancer is not an anomaly among veteran firefighters," Devaney wrote. "Extensive scientific research shows compelling evidence that specific cancers - particularly colorectal cancers - are strongly associated with firefighting."

Village officials say the case illustrated the larger challenges communities face funding public safety pensions.

"This case presents issues for citizens across the state, due to the possibility that this ruling could set a precedent for years to come in relation to an already broken pension system," a village statement issued Wednesday reads.

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