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Type of disability determines benefit level

Chicago Fire Department personnel are allotted a total of 365 sick days. If they’re injured, they have to use up those sick days before they can obtain disability pay.

The board of the Firemen’s Annuity and Benefit Fund of Chicago — the city’s fire pension fund — then decides which type of disability injured firefighters and paramedics qualify for. That determines the benefits they get.

The pension board includes four city officials and four elected fire representatives.

Firefighters and paramedics deemed by the board to be disabled fall into one of three categories. Here’s a breakdown, including the number of people in each category:

◆Duty disability (261) — covering those hurt while on the job. They initially get 75 percent of their salaries as disability pay for as long as 10 years. After 10 years, if they remain on duty disability, they’re guaranteed at least 50 percent of the current salary they would have made at their old job.

◆Occupational disease disability (125) — covering those on the job for at least seven years who suffer job-related illnesses of the heart, lungs or respiratory tract. They get 65 percent of their salaries for as long as 10 years. After that, if they remain on disability, they’re guaranteed at least 50 percent of the current salary they would have gotten for their old job.

◆Ordinary disability (4) — the least lucrative disability plan, for fire personnel injured while off-duty. This limits pay to 50 percent of their salaries at the time they were hurt, which they can be paid for no more than five years. At that point, if they can’t return to the fire department, all payments end.

Disability pay for fire personnel injured in the line of duty — as well as for those on occupational disease disability — is tax-free. They’re also entitled to free health insurance for themselves and their families, as well as a $30-a-month payment for each child under 18.

And they remain eligible for a full pension. Firefighters can stay on disability until the mandatory retirement age of 63, when they can begin drawing their pensions. There is no mandatory retirement age for paramedics.

Tim Novak and Chris Fusco

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