An area family saw justice served today, thanks to Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-11th), who intervened on their behalf.
The congressman and local fire officials announced the good news at a press conference today in Woodbridge.
The family of fallen Dale City firefighter Cecilia Turnbough, 43, will finally receive federal Public Safety Officers' Benefits, after previously being denied because Turnbough died during training and her status as a firefighter in the line of duty at the time of death was in question. She was a veteran Dale City volunteer EMT.
The overturning of the previous denial marks the end of a three-and-a-half-year wait for the Turnbough family. The decision to award benefits to the Turnbough family sets a federal precedent for other families who have lost loved ones in emergency training.
Cecilia died of a heart attack during mandatory firefighter training on Nov. 8, 2008. She was crawling through a maze in full protective gear and breathing apparatus when she collapsed. She was survived by her husband, Christopher Turnbough, and their three children.
Christopher applied for death benefits with the help of the Dale City Volunteer Fire Department. In August of 2010, almost two years later, he heard that his claim was denied. The family's subsequent appeal was denied by the Department of Justice in September of 2011.
Dale City Fire Chief Charles Hool then went to Congressman Connolly for assistance. Connolly contacted Attorney General Eric Holder in January of 2012, and asked him to "personally review" the family's claim.
"It bothered me when I read the circumstances," Connolly told Patch on Friday. "There's someone in training, on the job. To deny her benefits was a very narrow juridical ruling. Not very fair to her widower, and it set a bad federal precedent. I was very seized with this case."
The Turnbough family's claim was finally approved late last month.
"I applaud the Department of Justice for its willingness to take another look at this tragedy, review the new evidence provided, and reverse its previous denials of the Turnbough Public Safety Officers' Benefits claim," Connolly said today in a prepared statement. "This is an example of how local, state, and federal officials worked together to resolve an issue that had a direct impact on the family of a fallen first responder and ensure a positive precendent on how death benefits for similar first responder, firefighter, and law enforcement line-of-duty deaths will be handled in the future."
Neabsco District Supervisor John Jenkins knew Cecilia Turnbough personally.
"I had known her since about 2000. She was an EMT and served in all four Dale City fire stations," Jenkins said. "She would do anything for you that she could."
He recalled her efforts in decorating the fire trucks at Thanksgiving and Halloween for the benefit of visiting children.
"I can't begin to tell you how much she meant to everyone in the department," Jenkins said. "She's missed."
Danny Dutch, president of the Volunteer Fire Department, was an instructor at the time of Cecilia's death, but wasn't teaching that day.
"I found out within an hour," he said. "We were actually surprised because she was getting in better and better shape. It wasn't the case of someone who is completely out of shape suddenly deciding to go for a run. And then we were further shocked to have the denial come in from the state and then the federal."
Dutch is happy for a resolution to the situation, particularly this resolution, which he said could have lasting beneficial effects for families in similar situations across the nation.
"And we're just glad it's over," he said. "It seemed like an endless fight."
Relevant documentation, including the original denials of benefit, and Turnbough's letter to Connolly, are attached to this article as PDFs that can be viewed or downloaded at the right.