New York Firefighter Won Benefits Battle But Lost Battle With Cancer

Courtesy of Kingston Daily Freeman

KINGSTON - Two months ago, most agreed the nature of retired firefighter John J. Berardi Jr.'s job was the root cause of his cancer.

At the time, the 20-year veteran became the first Kingston firefighter to be granted on-duty illness status, making him eligible for the same full benefits awarded to those hurt battling a blaze.

On Monday, Berardi died at age 50, leaving his wife, Patricia, and three grown children, Leta, 27, John, 23, and Peggy, 20, according to Kingston Deputy Fire Chief Wayne Platte. Berardi's father, retired city firefighter John Sr., also survives.

Platte said Berardi, who lived on Second Avenue, was the first city firefighter to be awarded disability pay from the city and the state's Police and Fire Retirement System for what are known as performance-of-duty, or accidental, benefits.

Under legislation adopted in May 1997, paid firefighters are eligible for full benefits if they die from certain types of cancer.

The legislation provides that "if a firefighter is disabled or dies due to certain types of cancer, it is presumed that the illness was incurred in the performance and discharge of duty, unless there is proof that the illness was not employment-related," according to the Police and Fire Retirement System.

Berardi was to receive $46,082 each year for being granted 207A status, the designation granted to firefighters injured in the line of duty. It was unclear Tuesday what types of benefits his family members are to receive now that he has died, said Platte.

Platte described Berardi as a "pioneer" for city firefighters. Kingston Fire Chief Richard Salzmann said no other city firefighter had ever applied for 207A status.

Berardi retired in November 2001 and requested the status at about that time, according to Platte.

Assistant Fire Chief Chris Rea said it was determined that Berardi's cancer, which was found in his bladder in 1994, was "attributed to carcinogens inhaled while on duty."

Rea said carcinogens can find their way into the body from inhaling smoke from fires or the toxic fumes of fire trucks inside fire stations. Recently, Rea said, the fire department applied for Federal Emergency Management Agency grants to install $130,000 for automatic ventilation systems at three city firehouses. It would cost about $130,000 to install such systems, Rea said.

Outdated fans, which are used at stations now, have to be turned on manually, Rea said.

Kingston Mayor James Sottile said Berardi served the city with "distinction and was a leader." Berardi was active with the Local 461 of the Kingston Professional Firefighters Association.

"He fought a great battle," Sottile said. "Unfortunately, this is a risky job and you are putting your life in danger. ... It is just a sad, sad day for everyone, and I just feel for the family."

Sottile said the city needs to do something about the ventilation systems at the fire stations.

"We are going to make working conditions as safe and as clean as we possibly can," said Sottile, who added that city flags will fly at half-staff in Berardi's memory for the next few days.

Berardi's son, also named John, described his father simply.

"I can sum it up in three words: world's greatest dad," he said.

Funeral Arangements
Courtesy The IAFF
The viewing will be held today, Thursday, July 10, from 2:00 to 4:00 and 7:00 to 9:00 p.m. at the Simpson