By Philip Messing
Jackie Kaht Fernandez spent nine years fighting the Fire Department’s pension board and its doctors to prove that the sudden death of her husband, Lt. Cruz Fernandez, in 2006 at age 52 was related to his time spent at Ground Zero.
“The word ‘no’ is not in my vocabulary,” Jackie Fernandez, 53, told The Post.
Lt. Cruz FernandezPhoto: Jackie Kaht Fernandez
In an unusually harsh ruling March 2, Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Daniel Velasquez ripped the city for not siding with her sooner and said it operated in “bad faith” with her.
Fernandez said her husband — known as “Bombero” (Spanish for “firefighter”) — competed in nine New York City Marathons before his work at the World Trade Center site.
He retired in November 2002 after 24 years of service, feeling run down and having trouble catching his breath, she said.
He was diagnosed with acid reflux and had periodontal disease, but the maladies were attributed to allergies and sinus problems, she said.
In 2006, at a beach picnic in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., he collapsed in shallow water and died.
It was initially classified a drowning, but a medical examiner later concluded Fernandez had a heart attack brought on by anthracosis, commonly known as “coal miner’s disease.”
Jackie Fernandez applied for a disability pension in his name in March 2007 on the grounds that his exposure to toxins at Ground Zero had weakened his heart and lungs, leading to the heart attack that contributed to his drowning.
To grant such money, the FDNY pension board and its doctors need only to find a “presumptive” link between an ailment and a firefighter’s work at Ground Zero. But the board kept rejecting the widow’s bid.
Fernandez, now a flight attendant living in Florida, filed three suits before last month’s ruling.
She will now receive his annual $100,000 salary for every year since 2007, plus interest, as well as his yearly wages in the future. The city also has to pay her legal fees.
The pension will amount to about $3 million over the course of her lifetime, experts say.
Chet Lukaszewski, the lawyer who litigated the widow’s case, said the judge’s ruling “sends a clear message as to how [pension funds] should and should not act, especially in 9/11 cases.
“We are very hopeful they finally waive the white flag,” he told The Post.
A city Law Department spokesman would not say whether the city planned an appeal. It must decide by next month.