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Saturday, June 15, 2024 | Back issues
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‘Heroic’ Firefighter Was Wrongly Denied Benefits

(CN) - A New Jersey firefighter injured while saving two lives deserves a disability pension, even though his rescue was not an "accident," an appeals court ruled.

When James Moran used his body to knock down the front door of a burning building, he rescued two lives but suffered disabling injuries.

The Board of Trustees of the Police and Firemen's Retirement System denied his accidental disability retirement pension, however, because the incident was not "unexpected and undesigned."

New Jersey's Appellate Division reversed for Moran on Nov. 25, finding that the board misconstrued precedent "in denying accidental disability benefits to a firefighter whose heroic response to an undesigned and unexpected traumatic event left him disabled."

The 14-page ruling notes that Moran was not assigned to the half of the fire team that broke into burning buildings. He was on the crew that carried hoses into the building to put out the fire.

While waiting for the other half of the fire crew to arrive at the seemingly abandoned building, Moran heard screams from people trapped inside.

Though his colleagues would have used an ax or a battering ram to knock down the door, Moran had to use his "shoulder, leg and back," the firefighter testified.

Moran's fire captain testified that the only tool on his crew's truck was an ax, but Moran could not use it because he was "grabbing the hose line at the time, which [was what] he was supposed to be doing." (Brackets in original.)

The board denied Moran's pension because he was hurt while performing the duties of a firefighter and because he did not throw himself against the door by "accident."

For the appellate panel, however, the "combination of usual circumstances" in this case qualified Moran for the accidental disability pension.

"While this was not a classic 'accident,' in the sense that the house did not collapse on Moran, nor did he trip while carrying a fire hose, it was clearly an unexpected and undersigned traumatic event that resulted in Moran suffering a disabling injury while performing his job," Presiding Judge Susan Reisner wrote for a three-person panel.

Reisner likened the incident to a hypothetical scenario in which Moran would have had to save himself from the fire by jumping out of an upper-floor window.

"He would not be disqualified for benefits because he 'intentionally' jumped," she wrote.

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