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KANGAS RULING A VICTORY FOR HIS LEGACY AND JUNIOR VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS THROUGHOUT THE COUNTRY
UPPER DARBY, Pa. (29 Mar.) – On Monday, almost four years after the death of junior volunteer firefighter Christopher Kangas, a U.S. federal appeals court ruled that Kangas is eligible to receive Public Safety Officers’ Benefits (PSOB). U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), vice chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee and founder of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, hailed the ruling as vindication for Kangas’s family and the thousands of junior volunteer firefighters across the country. Weldon is introducing a congressional resolution to recognize the Kangas family on their victory and urge that yesterday’s ruling not be appealed.
In May 2002, Kangas, a 14-year old junior firefighter from Brookhaven Fire Company in Congressman Weldon’s District, died en route to a fire emergency. The Department of Justice (DOJ) ruled that Kangas was not eligible for the PSOB federal benefit provided to public safety officers injured or killed while on duty, because he did not meet the statutory definition of a firefighter.
Congressman Weldon, a former fire chief from Marcus Hook, Pa. and the fire service’s leading advocate in Congress, testified for Kangas at the initial hearing to appeal the DOJ ruling. He also introduced bipartisan legislation preventing the DOJ from denying firefighter eligibility for PSOB status because of age or duty restrictions as long as the person is an official member of a fire department. The Christopher Kangas Fallen Firefighter Apprentice Act (H.R. 1456) calls for a retroactive application of PSOB benefits from the date of Kangas’s death and would ensure that he and thousands of other junior firefighters across the country receive the recognition and benefits they deserve.
“The future of America’s fire service is in young people like Christopher Kangas and we cannot let them be forgotten. As the number of volunteer firefighters decline each year, more departments are depending on young people to fill in the ranks,” said Rep. Weldon. “Monday’s ruling is a significant step toward ensuring that our nation’s junior volunteer firefighters will be afforded the same recognition and privileges that their colleague’s already receive. I urge the Justice Department not to appeal this ruling, and for Congress to pass the Kangas Bill.”
"In order to protect their communities, firefighters have to put themselves in harms way. When Christopher Kangas responded to a fire call and died tragically as a result, he was no different than any of the more than 100 firefighters who die each year risking their lives to protect the lives and property of others,” said Philip C. Stittleburg, chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council. “Yesterday’s federal court ruling validates Christopher's status as a firefighter and, I hope, will provide some comfort to his grieving family. I urge the DOJ to accept the court's judgment and move swiftly to process the Kangas family's rightful claim to the PSOB.”
On April 6, 2006, Congressman Weldon will be honored at the 18th Annual National Fire and Emergency Services dinner for his work on first responder issues in Congress.