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NJ court gives hero firefighter accidental disability pension

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

PUBLIC SAFETY: An heroic Jersey City firefighter who rescued two people after breaking down the front door of a burning building is entitled to an accidental disability pension for a resulting back injury, a state appeals court ruled.

The Board of Trustees of the Police and Firemen’s Retirement System refused to give James Moran the accidental disability pension, saying that his 2010 injury didn’t meet the definition of an “undesigned and unexpected” trauma.

“Simply kicking in a door or intentionally using one’s back to force entry does not constitute an ‘unexpected happening,’ ” the PFRS said, giving Moran a standard disability pension of $38,000 a year — roughly 40% of his salary — over the objections of a state administrative law judge.

The house was boarded up and apparently unoccupied when firefighters arrived at 2 a.m. Jan. 12, 2010.

Moran said he then heard screams from inside.

Because the truck company equipped to break in hadn’t arrived, Morean put his shoulder, leg and back to the door and forced it open.

The state Appellate Division yesterday reversed the pension trustees’ finding and awarded Moran $63,000 a year, about a third of his final salary.

“Had he not responded immediately to break down the door, the victims would have died,” the judges said.

“While this was not the classic ‘accident,’ ” they said, “it was clearly an unexpected and undersigned traumatic event that resulted in Moran’s suffering a disabling injury while performing his job.

“The undesigned and unexpected event here was the combination of unusual circumstances that led to Moran’s injury: the failure of the truck unit to arrive, and the discovery of victims trapped inside a fully engulfed burning building, at a point when Moran did not have available to him the tools that would ordinarily be used to break down the door,” the appeals court decision says.

“The [administrative law judge] found that Moran’s training had not prepared him to break into burning buildings without the battering rams and other specialized equipment used by the truck company,” the judges added. “Indeed, there was no evidence to the contrary.”

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