Illinois Firefighter Battling Terminal Disease And His Own City Hall

| by Jared Keever

An Illinois firefighter whose coworkers told him they would help him in his struggle against a deadly disease is now also having to fight city hall. 

Derek Hogg recently told WFLD News he had always wanted to be a firefighter. By the time he was 31, in 2008, he had made that dream come true when he joined the Kankakee Fire Department.

But in 2012 he knew something was wrong. He said he started getting random muscle twitches. When the twitches got worse, he saw a doctor who diagnosed him with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, the degenerative muscle condition often referred to as Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

Although doctors told him he had five years to live, he chose to go back to work. 

“I loved being a fireman, loved it. And so I went back to work after I got my diagnosis,” Hogg said in a recent interview. 

When he became unable to perform his daily duties as a firefighter the department put him on desk duty in 2013. The light duty allowed him to continue to earn a paycheck to support his wife and two young sons. But Hogg can’t stay on the specially assigned desk duty indefinitely. When the time limit for light duty runs out he has to be able to return to regular duty or he will lose his job.

That would not be the end of the world if Hogg had enough years with the fire department to qualify for a disability pension, which would pay his family a steady $3,200 a month. But he won’t qualify for that until June of this year. 

His fellow firefighters offered to help out. They said they would work his shifts and donate vacation and sick days so he could stay on the payroll until June and qualify for the pension. The offer of help was a relief.

“Just a huge weight lifted off my shoulders, because with a young family at home I didn't know what I was going to do,” Hogg said. 

The firefighters union gave the plan the green light and Kankakee Mayor Nina Epstein was said to have given it verbal approval but wanted first to check with city lawyers. 

A month later Epstein said the city couldn’t accommodate the plan. 

“Sadly I cannot accommodate his request... This is a horrible situation, but I can't look at things that way. I have to look out for the taxpayers... I have to follow the law,” Epstein told WFLD recently.

Monday, Hogg and his family, accompanied by a group of supporters, attended the City Council meeting to plead with the mayor to change her mind. 

After a public statement by Hogg, Epstein said she would not continue to discuss the matter in a public forum, and said there was nothing she could do to reverse the decision. 

Hogg’s wife, Holly Hogg, said that was upsetting. 

"It's a bad situation, and I feel like they have the opportunity to make it better for us. And they're choosing not to help us. And I feel like our fate rests in the mayor's hands,” she said. “And I don't feel like she's doing enough to help us."

In the meantime, friends of the young family have set up a Gofundme site that has raised over $24,000. But most of that money will go to an experimental procedure Derek will undergo in California to treat the disease. Community members can also follow Derek’s story on the family Facebook page, where updates on his condition are often posted. 

Sources: WFLD NewsDerek Hogg Benefit on GofundmeHogg Family Facebook / Photo Credit: WFLD News, Facebook