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Widow Rescues Firefighter Benefits

Widow Rescues Firefighter Benefits

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Daytona Beach News-Journal via YellowBrix

May 01, 2010

DAYTONA BEACH, FL – A young Volusia County widow’s quest to close a legal loophole that would protect firefighter death benefits ended happily Friday — thanks to a timely save from Orange County sheriff’s deputies.

Kristen Curry had been lobbying — for two years — for a bill that would guarantee full death benefits to firefighters who are killed during a training exercise. Her husband, John “J.J.” Curry, was killed in November 2007 while training to fight wildfires.

As Friday dawned, it looked like Curry’s bill would be a casualty of political infighting on the final day of the legislative session.

It was hard to find anyone who objected to the measure; it unanimously passed the full Senate and four committees. But it was slow moving through the House of Representatives and this week got caught up in a political test of wills prompted by an abortion debate. It looked like it would die without a vote.

But Friday afternoon, Curry said she got the miracle she’d been praying for.

Her bill was amended to a Senate bill that changes disability benefits under the Florida Retirement System. It had been backed for five years by Orange County deputies after a deputy was paralyzed while responding to a suspected drug deal.

“Their bill could have died because it had an amendment on it,” Curry said later. “It was a huge risk.”

The amended bill passed unanimously in the Senate. It came to the House about two hours later for a vote Curry, 30, never thought she’d see this year. She had left her job as a preschool teacher and home-schooled her 6-year-old son, Owen, so she could be in Tallahassee and lobby the issue as a way to honor her husband’s memory. She figured she’d met with nearly each of the 120 representatives during the course of the two-month session.

Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, the bill’s House sponsor, said Curry’s efforts helped keep the issue at the forefront of members’ minds. “She never let up,” he said.

After the bill was announced, Curry and her son were called out by name for their support. House members turned to look up at them in the gallery.

“Every single one of them. They turned and looked up at us and started clapping,” she recalled. “It was the most amazing thing.”

The bill passed 118-0.