Lexington's police and fire pension board wants a retired disabled firefighter — who is currently chief of a volunteer fire department — to go to a doctor to determine if he is still disabled.
The Lexington Policemen's and Fire Fighters' Retirement Fund voted unanimously during a Wednesday meeting to send Paul Collins, who retired from the Lexington Fire Department on a disability pension in 2009, to a doctor for further review.
After the pension board receives the doctor's report — which could take several months — the board could decide whether to revoke Collins' disability pension.
The nature of Collins' disability cannot be disclosed because of privacy guidelines. Collins will be sent to a cardiologist for his review.
Collins, who is fire chief for the community of Lily in Laurel County, told the board Wednesday that although he has completed hundreds of hours of fire training and is an instructor for firefighter training courses, he does not do any strenuous physical activity.
"I do not participate in any hands-on training," Collins said.
As a volunteer chief, Collins is not paid.
A police officer or firefighter is considered totally and permanently disabled after the board receives written certification by at least two physicians selected by the board. For a job-related disability, the minimum annuity rate is 60 percent of the employee's final salary, and the maximum rate is 75 percent. Unlike a service retirement, disability retirement income is tax-free. Children of disabled officers and firefighters may attend any state college or university for free until age 23.
Lexington police Sgt. Jonathan Bastian, a member of the pension board, questioned whether Collins helped fight fires as a member of the volunteer department.
Collins said he does respond to vehicle or house fires, but he insisted that he didn't fight fires.
"I would be doing the oversight," he said. On average, three to six volunteers respond to house fires, he said. Collins said other volunteer firefighters perform the more physically taxing duties of fighting fires.
"I would stay at the apparatus," Collins said. "The other two people would set the lines."
His statement to the board came after it met for more than 20 minutes behind closed doors.
The police and fire pension board has been trying to clamp down on the number of police and firefighters who receive disability pensions and then take similar jobs elsewhere.
The percentage of Lexington police and firefighters who receive disability pensions is high compared to other pension systems.
From 2005 to 2010, 38 percent of the 119 Lexington police officers and firefighters who retired were awarded disability pensions. During that same time, only 3 percent of Kentucky State Police retirees were awarded disability, and 7 percent of Louisville's hazardous-duty workers, including police officers and firefighters, received disability pensions.
Tommy Puckett, a longtime pension board member, told the board that until three years ago, there was no formal process for the board to question a disabled retiree's pension. Collins' situation is the first to be reviewed under the new formal complaint policy.
The pension board has revoked only one pension in recent years. A disabled police officer lost his pension after he got a similar job with the federal government.
Several years ago, a Lexington firefighter retired on disability and then took a job as a police officer in a neighboring town. Rather than lose his disability pension, he resigned as a police officer, Puckett said.