PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The City of Salem is bringing a court case involving a firefighter who died from occupation-related cancer to the Oregon Supreme Court over benefits to his widow, the Oregon State Fire Fighter’s Council announced.
After serving the City of Salem for 28 years, Firefighter Maurice “Mo” Stadeli, was diagnosed with tonsillar cancer in 2018 and died in 2019, the firefighter council explained.
Following Stadeli’s death, the fire fighter’s council says Stadeli’s widow Tina was denied death benefit claims from the city before the Oregon Appellate Court recognized Stadeli’s death was due to occupational cancer and his death was classified as a line of duty death in 2021.
Nearly two years later, the city decided to appeal the decision to the Oregon Supreme Court on September 12, 2023, the council said.
“Mr. Stadeli’s passing was a tremendous loss to his family and our Fire Department. We appreciate his service to our community and the support of his family throughout his career,” said Salem City Manager Keith Stahley. “We face tough decisions and this is certainly one of them where we must balance our responsibility to all residents in safeguarding the City against future liability and protecting the City’s future fiscal health so that we can continue to serve our community.”
The city believes the Court of Appeals “misinterpreted” Oregon Worker’s Compensation Law “by requiring medical experts to have a level of certainty regarding the cause of some diseases that simply is not possible,” the city said in a statement.
The city claims that if the decision stands, the city and other state employers will pay higher workers compensation insurance premiums and will pay more for some illnesses and injuries unrelated to working conditions.
The city says it initially denied the benefits after receiving opinions from medical experts that Stadeli’s unrelated pre-existing medical condition “was the most significant probable cause of his illness” and that his work as a firefighter did not lead to him contracting the disease.
The council noted the city’s decision to appeal the case came days after Stadeli’s name was placed at the International Association of Fire Fighter’s Memorial Wall in Colorado Springs.
In a statement, IAFF General President Edward Kelly said “I am disgusted with the cowardly actions of the Salem City Council,” adding, “cowardly, because there was no indication of an intent to fight the Oregon Appellate Court decision for nearly two years. Cowardly, because the decision was announced on the final day the City of Salem had to appeal. Cowardly, because that notification was given as Salem Firefighters were escorting Mo’s widow, Tina, to the hallowed grounds of our IAFF Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial to honor his memory.”
“This is all or nothing for his widow Tina. His estate was rightfully awarded a line of duty death benefit from the Oregon Appellate Court. If she loses that, she loses everything for a job that he loved and worked so hard for,” Salem Professional Fire Fighters President Matt Brozovich said in a statement.
Brozovich added “Mo was a stand-up man, father, husband, brother and firefighter. To strip this away from his widow isn’t only wrong, it’s criminal. If I were to pass, I sure as hell would hope that my Sister and Brother fire fighters would stand up for my spouse, and that is certainly what we are doing in this case. For a city that quotes that ’employees are their number one asset,’ they need to start acting like it.”
A rally in support of the Stadeli family will be held 4:30 p.m. Monday at the Salem Fire Station before firefighters from across Oregon — joined by Congresswoman Andrea Salinas — will attend the Salem City Council meeting at 6 p.m.
“We vow to bring the full power and resources of the International Association of Fire Fighters to this fight and ensure Mo’s memory,” said Kelly. “We will not rest until Tina Stadeli receives the benefits she deserves.”
This is a developing story.