Buffalo Grove appeals ‘unprecedented’ pension award to family of firefighter who died from cancer
Buffalo Grove officials announced Wednesday they are challenging a decision to award a full line-of-duty death pension to the widow of a 51-year-old Buffalo Grove firefighter, arguing not enough evidence exists that his fatal colon cancer was related to his work.
The full pension award for Kevin Hauber’s wife, Kim Hauber, and their four children represented an “unprecedented” claim and marked the first award of its kind in Illinois after the Buffalo Grove Fire Department Pension Board determined earlier this year that Kevin Hauber’s cancer was caused in the line of duty, village officials said in a statement.
But the board’s decision on a 3-2 vote back in March was made with the “absence of clear evidence or research proving that firefighting has a direct or indirect causal relationship with colon cancer,” officials said.
Hauber, a veteran firefighter and paramedic in the village, died in January, roughly four years after being diagnosed with colon cancer. In the statement, Village President Beverly Sussman said officials believe a surviving spouse pension benefit equal to 75 percent of Hauber’s final salary is more appropriate than a benefit equal to 100 percent of his salary.
“This is a sensitive and emotional issue for all of us. Kevin was beloved in Buffalo Grove, and is greatly missed,” Sussman said, adding, “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.”
In a separate statement to Pioneer Press, Kim Hauber said the village’s move to appeal the pension board’s decision is “unfortunate.”
“It is my understanding that they have a very high threshold to overcome in court,” Kim Hauber said. “Kevin and I have young children, and we counted on Kevin’s income to help support our family. Unfortunately, his life was cut short. We pray and hope that the court will agree with the pension board’s decision, based on the facts of this case and applicable laws.”
The issue over Hauber’s death benefit touches on a volatile debate happening among local, state and federal lawmakers over whether cancer found in firefighters is the result of their work in the line of duty.
To that end, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) began a multi-year study in 2010 of nearly 30,000 firefighters from departments in Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco to “better understand the potential link between firefighting and cancer,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Researchers found the firefighters who were studied showed higher rates of certain types of cancer than the general U.S. population, CDC said on its website.
Based on U.S. cancer rates, firefighters in the study had a greater number of cancer diagnoses and cancer-related deaths, which were determined to be mostly digestive, oral, respiratory and urinary cancers, according to the CDC website.
In announcing their appeal, Buffalo Grove officials said the only “appropriate and fiduciary response” was to challenge the pension board’s decision, which was reaffirmed by the board in May.
Village officials estimated the full, 100-percent pension award would create an additional liability of $1.7 million compared to a 75-percent award that the Hauber family was qualified to receive.
In a letter that Kim Hauber hand delivered to village officials during the May pension board hearing, she said Buffalo Grove made a promise to her husband that “should he give his life in exchange for protecting the citizens of Buffalo Grove, that his family would be taken care of.”
“We already suffered the catastrophic loss of a husband, a daddy, a friend, a coworker,” Kim Hauber said. “By denying the fact that Kevin laid his life down for the benefit of the community and if this (pension) board’s decision is challenged, it is in essence saying it does not matter that Kevin gave his life.”