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Board of Trustees v. Dep't of Insurance





Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County; the Hon. James C. Murray, Judge, presiding.


The Board of Trustees of the Firemen's Pension Fund of the city of Park Ridge, the Park Ridge Professional Firefighters' Association, and the city of Park Ridge (plaintiffs) brought this action for administrative review (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 110, par. 264 et seq.) of a final decision by the Director and a hearing officer of the Department of Insurance of the State of Illinois (defendants). The decision by the defendants, which required the plaintiff Board of Trustees to assess contributions to the pension fund upon the compensation paid to the city's firemen-paramedics, was affirmed by the trial court. Plaintiffs appeal.

A contract between the city of Park Ridge and the Park Ridge Professional Firefighters' Association covered the period from May 1, 1977, through April 30, 1979, and thereafter until changed by the parties. The contract provided for specific annual salaries for the city's firemen according to their rank. In addition, the contract provided that "As an incentive for Firemen to become certified and maintain qualifications as a Paramedic" the city agreed to pay up to 18 firemen who met established standards for paramedics "a bonus of $700 annually payable on a quarterly basis." This amount was payable until the recipient was permitted by the department head to become inactive as a paramedic after completion of a minimum term of four years.

A hearing was held on February 27, 1980. The hearing officer found the additional money paid to the firemen-paramedics was "salary" within the meaning of the Illinois Pension Code, and not a "bonus." The hearing officer recommended the Board of Trustees take steps to assess payroll deductions pursuant to section 4-124 of the Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1977, ch. 108 1/2, par. 4-124). On May 1, 1980, the Director of the Department of Insurance adopted the findings of the hearing officer.


Plaintiffs first contend Park Ridge paramedics are specifically excluded from the statutory definition of "fireman" as found in the Illinois Pension Code (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 108 1/2, par. 4-101 et seq.). The Code defines "fireman" as (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 108 1/2, par. 4-106(c)):

"* * * any person employed by a city in its fire service as a fireman, fire engineer, marine engineer, fire pilot, bomb technician, or scuba diver; and, in any of these positions whose duties also include those of a fireman and are certified in the same manner as a fireman in that city; * * *."

Because this statute does not include "paramedics," plaintiffs take the position that the use of the statutory phrase "these positions" indicates all others must be excluded from this definition. (See Shanahan v. Policemen's Annuity & Benefit Fund (1976), 43 Ill. App.3d 543, 357 N.E.2d 582.) Plaintiffs also urge that although paramedics are also qualified as firefighters, they receive their compensation from the "ambulance service" division of the entire fire department budget and they do not perform routine firefighting duties. Therefore, plaintiffs maintain paramedics do not fall within this statutory definition.

• 1 We disagree. First, we do not agree the intention of the legislature in drafting section 4-106 was to include only those particular specialties named. It has been held such pension statutes are to "be liberally construed in favor of those to be benefited." (Board of Trustees of the Policemen's Pension Fund of the Village of Oak Brook v. Department of Insurance (1976), 42 Ill. App.3d 155, 159, 356 N.E.2d 171.) Furthermore, the contract between the city of Park Ridge and the Firemen's Association specifically provides that only firefighters who met standards for paramedics "in addition to all other [f]iremen's responsibilities" would be certified as paramedics. It is also undisputed Park Ridge paramedics contributed to the firemen's pension fund out of the non-"bonus" portion of their salary. Thus, we cannot agree the statute provides that certification of firefighters as paramedics alters their status so as to exclude them from being "firemen."


Plaintiffs next contend that even assuming a paramedic is a fireman within the framework of section 4-106(c), the additional paramedic compensation is not subject to pension deductions. Plaintiffs cite the section of the Pension Code which requires the Board of Trustees (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1979, ch. 108 1/2, par. 4-124):

"[t]o assess each fireman [a specified percentage] of salary including longevity attached to the rank held by the fireman as established by the municipality appropriation ordinance, but does not include `overtime pay', `holiday pay', `bonus pay', `merit pay', or any other cash benefit over and above the salary established by the appropriation ordinance, which sum is to be deducted and withheld from the pay or fees of each fireman so assessed."

Plaintiffs contend the designation of the paramedic compensation as "bonus" pay specifically excludes it from the pension deductions as detailed in the above statute. Plaintiffs further contend the "paramedic bonus" is excluded by not being "salary attached to the rank held by the fireman."

In our opinion, the $700 paid Park Ridge paramedics must be construed as "salary" rather than "bonus." Our courts> define "salary" as "`a fixed, annual, periodical amount payable for services and depending upon the time of employment and not the amount of services rendered.'" (Board of Education v. Chicago Teachers Union Local 1 (1980), 89 Ill. App.3d 861, 866, 412 N.E.2d 587, reversed on other grounds (1981), 88 Ill.2d 63, 430 N.E.2d 1111, quoting In re Sanitary District Attorneys (1932), 351 Ill. 206, 274, 184 N.E. 332. See also Jahn v. City of Woodstock (1981), 99 Ill. App.3d 206, 425 N.E.2d 490.) The additional sum "of $700 annually" is paid to paramedics "on a quarterly basis" according to the contract. Firemen are to receive this additional amount "prorated based upon the date they complete all training * * * and are authorized * * * to assume full [p]aramedic responsibilities." The paramedic continues to receive this amount until he ...

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