D.C. Hearing Last Chance for Fallen Pennsylvania Junior Firefighter

BROOKHAVEN, Pa.-- Chris Kangas has got to be smiling, and keeping his fingers crossed. It's been a long fight to have the late junior firefighter from Brookhaven designated as a full-fledged firefighter, and yet another battle is scheduled today.

A bus for Washington, D.C., is scheduled to leave from the Brookhaven firehouse at 5 a.m. If it's filled to capacity, as was expected, the 24 people in it are there solely to lend support to attorney Frank Daly, who has just 15 minutes to argue, once again, why the teen who was killed on the way to a fire deserves full firefighter status.

Daly is appearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. But before Daly has his time on the clock today, Nancy M. Kim has 15 minutes to speak on behalf of the Department of Justice. They're scheduled for 10 a.m. in Courtroom 21, in the Howard T. Markey National Courts Building.

Last May, the Justice Department appealed an earlier ruling by federal appeals Judge Marian Blank Horn, who ruled in favor of naming Kangas a firefighter.

Kangas' mother, Julie Amber-Messick, had lost three previous appeals. She started her fight with the Justice Department in 2002.

Chris Kangas was one day shy of his 15th birthday when he died en route to a fire in 2001. He was riding a bicycle at the time and was struck by a car.

His funeral was one of both unimaginable sadness and indisputable pride.

As many as 350 firefighters and emergency personnel from 52 departments with 66 pieces of apparatus responded to Kangas' "last call." One firefighter came from as far away as Massachusetts, driving eight straight hours for what he said was "the privilege" to offer his condolences.

Kangas' dream was to be a firefighter.

When he was buried, he was dressed in donated pieces of clothing that combined to make a Class A fireman's uniform.

As a full-fledged firefighter, not only would Chris get his name on the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Md., his mother would receive federal death benefits worth more than $260,000. She has already received local and state benefits totaling about $270,000.

Horn's decision was announced March 27. She said the federal definition for a "firefighter" was broader than the DOJ allowed.

The Justice Department filed its appeal in May, just under the 60-day deadline wire.

At the time, Daly told the Daily Times Kim explained the Justice Department decided to appeal Horn's ruling because its solicitor general's office needed more time to review court documents.

Earlier this week, Brookhaven Fire Chief Rob Montella said today's trip was merely "a show of support," something he and members vowed years ago.

He expects another waiting period before any decision. Whatever it takes, he said, he's in it to the end -- for Kangas.

Joining Montella on the bus today, if all goes as planned, will be Amber Messick, several firefighters and some borough council members. Also joining the crew are some junior members of the fire department, including Montella's son, Rob W. Montella, Joe Bynum, Pat Cole, George Cornog Jr., Eric Marley and Bob Small.

Montella noted that the department has 10 junior members.

Republished with permission of the Delco Daily Times.

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