Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Volunteer Firefighter’s Family To Get 9/11 Benefit

A Bittersweet Victory for the Family of a 9/11 Hero

by: Lou Angeli

(New York, NY) – January 16, 2008 – On September 11, 2001, attorney Glenn Winuk rushed from the Broadway law offices of Holland & Knight (1) along with the rest of the firm's staff. But instead of running north, away from the carnage that was unfolding at the World Trade Center, the attorney grabbed a mask and a pair of gloves from passing firefighters and charged toward the billowing smoke. It was the same thing he had done in 1993, when terrorists set off a bomb in the center's basement. It was the same thing he had done hundreds of times over 20 years as a volunteer firefighter in Jericho, NY.

Glenn was found 6 months later, his remains cradling those of a woman victim. He was wearing surgical gloves and a stethoscope. His family, friends and colleagues all asked that Glenn be remembered as a rescuer, but government felt differently denying that Glenn was a “real” firefighter. Even though Winuk was not counted among the FDNY’s 343, the department itself acknowledged that the 20 year veteran was serving in a capacity as a volunteer firefighter-EMT.

State and Federal attorneys spent thousands of hours trying to build a case against Winuk and his role as a 9/11 volunteer rescuer. Why? The feds didn’t want to payout the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit of $250,000 (2), fearing that other families would come forward with the same claim. It is estimated that government spent perhaps 10 times the PSOB amount in its effort to disprove Glenn Winuk’s worthiness to serve behind the badge.

For the Winuk family, proper recognition of Glenn’s contribution at the World Trade Center had nothing to do with money. In fact, the bronze 9/11 memorial that runs alongside the length of FDNY Fire Station 10 was donated by the Winuk family and Glenn’s co-workers.

After years of bickering, last March the New York State Assembly finally brought resolution to the issue in a bill that was passed posthumously giving Glenn Winuk active status in the Jericho Volunteer Fire Department. (3)

Today, after a five-year fight, the U.S. government has dropped its effort to prevent a volunteer firefighter killed at the World Trade Center from receiving a federal death benefit for public safety officers who die on the job.

The Justice Department's Bureau of Justice Assistance fought his family's effort to collect a $250,000 payment due to police officers, firefighters and other government emergency workers killed in the line of duty. The agency argued that the benefit was intended only for active-duty public safety officers, and that Winuk didn't qualify because he hadn't been on regular duty with his volunteer department.

Fight has gone on too long (4)

The long court battle finally ended on Jan. 10, after the Office of the Solicitor General decided to drop its last appeal in the case."It's really terrific. This fight has gone on too long," said Glenn's brother, Jay Winuk.

Although the move clears the way for Winuk's parents to receive the $250,000, the family says their primary interest is in achieving proper government recognition for Glenn's public service.

"It's very meaningful to my parents," Jay Winuk told AP.

He added that he hoped President Bush would now see fit to award his late brother the 9/11 Heroes Medal of Valor, which was given to the relatives of 442 other public safety officers killed in the terrorist attacks.----


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