Late firefighter’s benefit claim finally approved.

January 11, 2016

Pentwater FDPENTWATER — Following a lengthy battle with the United States Department of Justice, the Public Safety Officer Benefit claim for Pentwater Fire Department Captain John Sayles was approved Monday, Jan. 11, according to a press release issued by the Pentwater Fire Department.

John Sayles was a Captain, Secretary, and member of Pentwater Fire Department for over 10 years when he died November 14, 2012, less than 24 hours after fighting a structure fire on an assist to Hart Area Fire Department. He was at home changing a tire when he went into his house and collapsed. Sayles was transported to Mercy Hospital in Muskegon where he was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm and died while in transport to a Grand Rapids hospital for an emergency surgical procedure.

Because Sayles had fought a fire less than 24 hours before his collapse, his death was considered line of duty related, a legal benefit afforded under the Hometown Heroes Survivors’ Benefits Act of 2003. Claim paperwork was initially submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ) on February 13, 2013. Additional information was requested over the next 17 months until the claim was assigned to “legal review” on July 17, 2014.

The claim would remain in legal review for another 14 months until September 16, 2015. At the time Lee Van Ameyde of “WZZM 13 On Your Side Watchdog” was conducting an interview at Pentwater Fire Department, an e-mail was received from the DoJ stating Sayles’ claim was returned from legal review because his collapse fell outside the 24-hour window by 14 minutes.

“It was beyond frustrating”, said Pentwater Fire Department Captain Ray Hasil. “The Department of Justice started the 24-hour clock from the moment we cleared the scene of our assist to Hart Area Fire Department. They ignored our drive back to the station and the time it takes to put gear, equipment and apparatus back in service. It took the DoJ 31 months to tell us that.”

On October 29, 2015, WZZM 13 aired an eight-minute story on the struggle to get Sayles’ wife Melanie the PSOB benefits she and their three daughters need and deserve. The next day, Melanie was notified the claim was back in DoJ legal review. Testimonies were provided to the DoJ from witnesses that knew and interacted with Sayles after the fire. They stated that something was wrong with him from the moment he had left the station after the assist to Hart and into the next day before he collapsed.

“It’s been a long road for us all but especially long for Melanie, their daughters, John’s parents and his sister.”

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