- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 4, 2002

One week after D.C. firefighter Antoine Marshall and his family moved into their new home in Largo, Mr. Marshall died there.
Mr. Marshall was only 30 when he died from a blood clot on April 1, leaving Mona Marshall to take care of their three children Terron, 9, Antoine Jr., 5, and Amonie, 10 months and their $1,800 monthly mortgage payments.
Mrs. Marshall knew she would receive his retirement benefits and $10,000 life insurance to help pay the bills, but more than two months after her husband died, the 30-year-old widow has yet to receive a dime.
Her experience is part of an ongoing problem for city firefighters, dozens of whom are owed back pay and money for step increases.
Mrs. Marshall had to start relying on her family and has left the $17,000 funeral expense unpaid. Mrs. Marshall said she plans to sell her husband's truck in order to pay the mortgage.
"We worked hard for this, and he enjoyed it for only a week," Mrs. Marshall said recently while seated in her living room, her wedding photos nearby. "I don't want to lose it."
She said she found out about a week ago that no one from the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department personnel department had notified the payroll department that her husband was dead, even though it stopped Mr. Marshall's paycheck for his last week of service.
No one had begun processing the paperwork to get her family's survivor benefits paid, Mrs. Marshall said, until she inquired about it three weeks ago.
The station where Mr. Marshall worked notified the department's personnel department, which should have processed his family's survivor benefits. Mrs. Marshall should have begun receiving benefits about a month after her husband's death, but she said she has been told it will be another two months before she is paid.
"They didn't know he had passed away. Someone dropped the ball," Mrs. Marshall said.
Lt. Steve Fennell, who worked with her husband at Engine Company 19, said that everyone in the department knew Mr. Marshall had died.
"The retirement section was not notified [by the fire department personnel department]. The fire chief knew; our payroll division knew. How many notifications do you need? This widow is not getting any money," said Lt. Fennell, a union representative.
Mrs. Marshall said she also found while trying to get the benefits paid that her husband was owed $2,000 a year in back pay from a step increase he received in December, as well as about $1,500 per year for technician pay he qualified to receive as a driver last May.
"It is a shame he had to die to finally get paid," Mrs. Marshall said.
But far more firefighters are still owed back pay, according to Lt. Raymond Sneed, president of D.C. Fire Fighters Association, Local 36. He said he has found at least 50 of his members who are owed pay raises, step pay increases and technician pay.
"They have not straightened this mess out," Lt. Sneed said. "It is difficult for us to operate under these conditions."
Lt. Sneed began polling his members about back pay after he received notice that Chief Ronnie Few provided testimony to the House Appropriations subcommittee on the District that all back pay issues had been resolved.
Fire department spokeswoman Lisa Bass and Chief Few said in a prepared statement that they were not aware Mrs. Marshall was having problems getting her benefits paid. Miss Bass also said she could not comment about back pay unless she was provided details on the type of back pay and the names of the firefighters owed.
Lt. Sneed said that he completed collecting all the information of firefighters owed back pay on Friday and would forward that information to Deputy Mayor Margret Nedelkoff Kellems.
Chief Few said in April that all firefighters were paid their back pay when he responded to questions from Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham, California Republican.
The chief said that the back pay was a "top priority," and that all 1,300 firefighters had been paid.
"The department is pleased to report that the large backlog of employees with overdue step increases has been resolved, and those persons have received those increases on their most recent checks," Chief Few said in his reply.
Chief Few whose tenure has been plagued by slow response times, aging equipment and low morale among firefighters resigned last week, effective July 31.
When told firefighters have still not been paid, Mr. Cunningham said in a statement that he is confident Mayor Anthony A. Williams would resolve the problem.
"I have every confidence that he [Mr. Williams] will continue to make sure these discrepancies are resolved and our brave firefighters are rightly compensated for their valuable service," Mr. Cunningham said in his statement.
Mrs. Kellems said she found out in April that there were firefighters owed back pay and has been working with the fire department and the Office of Personnel Management to ensure they are reimbursed.
She said she was not aware of Mrs. Marshall's plight but would look into the matter, adding that she is not in the practice of causing further hardships for a grieving family.
"A lot of this has fallen through the cracks," she said.

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