Lancaster, Massachusetts Voters Approve Health Benefits for Firefighter Widow

LANCASTER, Mass. (AP) -- Voters in this central Massachusetts town voted on Monday to provide health care benefits to the widow of a fallen firefighter, after previously voting down a ballot question that would have given her a pension.

The single ballot question was approved 643 to 298, said town clerk Sue Thompson. There are 4,176 eligible voters in the town.

The vote will allow Clair McNamara, who lives in the neighboring town of Clinton, to buy into the town's health care benefit package as a retiree, paying the same share as any other Lancaster retiree.

McNamara's husband, Martin H. McNamara, 31, was killed while battling an apartment fire Nov. 29, 2003. Like the state's thousands of other on-call firefighters, McNamara was not covered by any type of accidental death policy when he died while battling an apartment fire Nov. 29, 2003.

Lancaster, a town of about 7,000 residents some 40 miles west of Boston, and other communities with part-time fire departments legally are not required to pay survivor benefits to families of firefighters who die on the job.

On Nov. 2, town residents defeated by 16 votes a tax override that would have paid for a pension for the McNamara family.

Lancaster residents had set up a charitable fund shortly after the fire after being told there were to be no pension or death benefits for the family. Also, Mrs. McNamara has received about $400,000 in one-time local, state and federal accidental death benefits.

Last month, Gov. Mitt Romney signed into law a bill requiring Lancaster officials to hold the special election within 35 days. He also sent a letter saying that he hopes to work with the Legislature this year to ensure that such benefits would be granted to surviving families without communities' having to resort to special acts of legislation.