Mikulski Takes Fire Trainee's Case To Holder

December 07, 2009|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz , Julie.Bykowicz@baltsun.com

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski has asked for an immediate appeals hearing to make the case that the two children of a Baltimore fire cadet killed in a training exercise should be awarded a federal survivors' benefit.

In her request Friday to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Mikulski referred to a letter from Baltimore Fire Chief James S. Clack that stated for the first time that trainee Racheal Wilson had the authority to act as a firefighter when she died - information the Justice Department said it was lacking when it denied her family's nearly $300,000 claim.

Wilson, 29, was asphyxiated in a rowhouse blaze in West Baltimore in February 2007, less than three months after she joined the department. The staged training exercise violated national standards and led to the dismissal of the Fire Department's training academy commander. The fire chief also resigned, and Clack was appointed by Mayor Sheila Dixon.

Clack, in a letter dated Thursday to the Public Safety Officers' benefit office within the Justice Department, wrote that Wilson died "in the performance of duty. ... Wilson did, in fact, have the authority to act to her level of training and was operating in an official capacity as a member of the department."

Mikulski, chairwoman of the subcommittee that oversees the Justice Department's budget, first asked Holder to intervene a month ago, shortly after a Justice official informed Clack by e-mail that it was denying the family's benefit for lack of information.

The fathers of Wilson's son and daughter had applied for the benefits about two months after she died.

Clack said last month that his department had been responsive to the Justice Department but had not received clear directions about what further information to provide.

"Attorney General Holder must right this wrong," Mikulski said in a statement Friday. "Cadet Wilson earned this financial support and her children deserve it. Further delay is unacceptable. Her children can count on me to continue to fight for them."

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