Department Of Justice Appeals Pennsylvania Teen LODD Decision
Junior Firefighter Chris Kangas Died En Route To A 2002 Fire

Updated: 06-01-2006 02:08:30 PM

Courtesy of The Delco Daily Times

Delaware County, Pa.-- It's been four years since Julie Amber-Messick started fighting for death benefits and the right for her son, Chris Kangas, a junior firefighter who died en route to a fire in 2002, to be named on the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial in Emmitsburg, Md.

But it's only been about three months since she's known victory. Amber-Messick learned in March that federal appeals Judge Marian Blank Horn ruled in her favor, legally naming her son a firefighter.

Amber-Messick said she planned on attending the memorial's dedication ceremony in October, knowing her son would be proud his name was etched among fellow firefighters.

Tuesday those dreams started vanishing as quickly as they arrived. The Kangas' family's attorney, Frank Daly, informed the Daily Times that the Department of Justice has filed an appeal in federal court.

Unless the DOJ withdraws the appeal before October, Kangas' name won't be listed on the memorial this year, and Amber-Messick won't receive federal death benefits worth $267,000. She's already received local and state benefits worth $270,000.

"It's disappointing, but I can't say I'm surprised," said Amber-Messick, who first started fighting the DOJ over death benefits in 2002.

She has lost those legal battles three separate times over the past three years. The DOJ claimed each time that the Kangas family was ineligible for benefits because Chris did not fall under federal "firefighter" definitions, since he was not permitted to "fight fires."

Horn ruled March 27 that federal definitions for a "firefighter" were much broader than the DOJ allowed.

Daly said that according to DOJ attorney Nancy Kim, the Department of Justice decided to appeal Horn's ruling because its solicitor general's office needed more time to review court documents.

If the DOJ had not appealed by Saturday, he said Judge Horn's ruling would have been permanent and the Department of Justice would not have had an opportunity to appeal later.

"Even though they had 60 days, I guess it wasn't enough time for the Department of Justice to hear from everyone they had to hear from," said Daly.

U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, R-7 of Thornbury, who introduced legislation that passed April 6 in the House of Representatives recognizing Kangas legally as a firefighter, called the DOJ's appeal "total stupidity."

"It's disappointing, but at the same time, outrageous that the bureaucrats just don't get it," he said.

"This is not about money; it's about the status of Kangas and other junior firefighters affected by this. Hundreds of fire companies in America have sent me letters, telling me how happy they are that the (March 27) ruling was finally achieved. For the Department of Justice to leave the door open for an appeal doesn't make sense."

Weldon said he would use "whatever means" at his disposal to have Horn's decision upheld, which apparently included calling on the Attorney General to become personally involved.

Daly said Horn's decision could still remain active if the DOJ's solicitor general's office advises the department to withdraw.

Without a withdrawal, however, he expected a decision on the appeal in about a year.

Copyright DelcoTimes 2006.
Republished with permission of The Delco Daily Times.

Photo Below
Courtesy of the Brookhaven Fire Company
Chris Kangas