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Fired firefighter can return

January 12, 2019

KANKAKEE — The city of Kankakee is giving a former firefighter $70,000 and offering to rehire him under a settlement.

According to its terms, John Burke, who has an Oak Forest mailing address, will be reinstated as a firefighter within 10 days of the executed agreement, as long as he passes a physical exam.

Burke, who was let go in May 2016, signed a settlement agreement with the city Monday. The City Council approved it three weeks ago.

In an interview, Fire Chief Damon Schuldt said he assumed Burke would return to the department soon.

“We’re still working through the process. We don’t have an exact date yet,” the chief said.

Under the settlement, the city agreed to hire a consultant to conduct in-person training on the Americans With Disabilities Act for employees.

On July 21, 2016, Burke filed a grievance with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. He alleges the city discriminated against him in violation of the ADA.

On April 19, 2016, he hurt his back. After being admitted to a hospital, he was diagnosed with early degenerative disc disease by an orthopedic spinal care physician, the complaint said.

On April 23, 2016, his doctor released him to work for full duty without restrictions. But the city’s doctor said Burke only could return to work on a “light duty” basis in which he could lift no more than 50 pounds, the complaint said. Burke was unable to get detailed records from the city’s doctor.

On May 5, 2016, the city told Burke he could no longer meet the job requirements and would recommend his termination. He was fired five days later, less than a month after he hurt his back.

With the settlement, Burke’s EEOC complaint is dismissed.

Burke, who only worked for the department for 10 months, received at least two accolades for his service.

In October 2016, Burke, who already had left the fire department, attended a City Council meeting to receive a Meritorious Service Award from the city. Then-Mayor Nina Epstein said Burke performed rescues from a ladder to the second floor of a building engulfed in flames a few months earlier.

In May 2017, Burke was one of 24 firefighters honored statewide with the Firefighter Excellence Award for acts of service in the line of duty and demonstration of professionalism in service to the public.

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