Pension board to hear fire chief's appeal for disability pension

Panel also denies 2nd request for disability unrelated to job

bfortune@herald-leader.comNovember 10, 2011 

Lexington Fire Chief Robert G. Hendricks was on the scene as Residents salvaged what they could after a Wednesday night fire at their Harrodsburg Square Apartment building photographed on Thursday January 12, 2006.

LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Lexington's police and fire pension board agreed Wednesday to hear Fire Chief Robert Hendricks' appeal of the denial of his occupational disability pension.

The appeal will be heard at the Dec. 14 board meeting, and a decision will be made afterward.

Also during Wednesday's meeting, the pension board unanimously denied a request by Hendricks to receive a non-occupational disability pension, which is for officers or firefighters who are hurt off the job.

Hendricks' initial request was for a work-related disability pension. His attorney, Mark Wohlander, said his client applied for the disability pension because of a psychiatric ailment. Wohlander did not elaborate.

Hendricks made the request for an occupational disability in May, about three months after Mayor Jim Gray raised questions about Hendricks' leadership skills and then asked him to resign. Hendricks did not resign, and efforts to seek his dismissal were stalled after he requested a disability pension.

The police and fire pension board voted unanimously Oct. 12 to deny Hendricks' initial request because two of three doctors who examined Hendricks submitted reports saying he was not totally and permanently disabled, officials have said.

After Wednesday's meeting, pension board member Tommy Puckett said the December hearing "will be like a court hearing." Hendricks can be represented by a lawyer. The meeting will be in open session in Urban County Council chambers, on the second floor of the Government Center.

"We will listen to arguments from him, his attorney and any people he brings with him," Puckett said.

If Hendricks' request is denied again, he may seek redress through Fayette Circuit Court.

Hendricks has been on unpaid leave since Sept. 14. The fire chief already receives a service pension; he retired as a district major in 1997. He was hired as chief in 2002.

As for his request for a non-occupational disability pension, Puckett said Hendricks also has the right to appeal the board's denial.

It is unclear why that request was denied. However, Puckett said Hendricks' requests for occupational and non-occupational pensions "are two completely separate things."

"We have to treat them as two separate disabilities," he said.

Puckett said a non-occupational disability is available to police officers or firefighters after they've been on the force for at least five years.

"That means if you're going to dinner and you get rear-ended and your back is messed up real bad and you cannot come back to work, then you can still get a little bit of a disability," he said.

Reach Beverly Fortune at (859) 231-3251 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3251.

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