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Help is strong for firefighters’ families

Chicago Fire Dept. members others arrive for funeral service for Chicago Fire Dept. Capt. Herbie Johnsoutside St. RitCasciShrine Chapel Thursday

Chicago Fire Dept. members and others arrive for the funeral service for Chicago Fire Dept. Capt. Herbie Johnson outside St. Rita Cascia Shrine Chapel, Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: December 12, 2012 6:21AM



When firefighters die in the line of duty, they are not forgotten.

Neither are their families.

The Fireman’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago makes sure the family will want for nothing financially, director Kenneth Kaczmarz said.

The surviving spouse gets a monthly payment. The widow of Capt. Herbie Johnson, for example, will receive 75 percent of his current salary, Kaczmarz said.

“And she will receive all future increases (in pay for a captain) for the rest of her life. That’s a direct pension benefit and it is not taxed. It’s replacement of lost income,” he said.

According to the pay scale on the fund’s website, that comes to approximately $7,100 per month.

“They’re going to do OK financially, but it’s not intended to replace the father in the house,” Kaczmarz said.

A one-time death benefit payment is also paid out by the fund. Depending on the age of a firefighter, that is between $6,000 and $12,000, Kaczmarz said.

Surviving families can also apply for other benefits on a state and federal level. Those one-time payments, also tax-free, can amount to well over $600,000.

The U.S. Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program, administered through the Department of Justice, pays qualifying survivors a one-time sum of $323,035.75. Under the Illinois Line of Duty Compensation Act, the family of a fallen firefighter is entitled to $313,878.96.

But perhaps the greatest network for assistance is found in the firehouse, as evidence by the hundreds upon hundreds of firefighters who came from near and far to attend Johnson’s funeral Thursday.

That support didn’t surprise Eric Nagle of the National Fallen Firefighters Association, who spoke of the close bonds among firefighters.

Since 1981, there have been 3,661 firefighters who’ve died in the line of duty, he said. Eighty-seven died in 2010, and 80 died in 2011.

“We’d like to be out of business some day,” Nagle said.

Most firefighters who die in the line of duty succumb to cardiovascular problems, he said.

“Stress and overexertion can lead to that. Vehicular accidents are second. We still have firefighters who choose to not wear a seat belt,” he said.

Support for firefighters’ families can lessen over time as people return to normal lives although the family’s life is far from normal, he said.

Kaczmarz said even as time passes, support for the families of dead firefighters remain strong.

“It absolutely is a close group. It’s a pleasure working for them. When you see them all together at times like this, that’s when you realize you are part of a great organization. People will do whatever they can to help,” Kaczmarz said.

Groups like the Gold Badge Society, formed in 1991 and based in Mount Greenwood, offer emotional support, he said. It offers scholarships for children of fallen firefighters, and emotional support.

Donations for Johnson’s family are being accepted at any Harris Bank branch and online at www.widowsandchildren.org.



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