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Injured Colo. Deputy Denied Worker's Comp. For Trying to Rescue Baby When Off Duty 11/24/2004

SOURCE: The Associated Press


DENVER, Colo. (AP) - A deputy praised as a hero for trying to rescue a baby from a burning home said he was told that worker's compensation won't cover his medical bills because he was off duty at the time.

George Gatchis was turned back twice by thick, choking smoke when he tried to crawl through a suburban Aurora home to reach 3-month-old Reginald "Donovan" King on Thursday. Donovan, who was in day-care at the home, was found dead about 15 feet from the front door.

Gatchis was on his way home from his overnight shift with the Denver Sheriff's Department when he saw smoke and tried to help. He nearly lost consciousness once and suffered smoke inhalation in the rescue attempt.

Gatchis said Monday his supervisors told him he must use his health insurance to cover his medical bills because he was not on duty.

"My opinion is that we're on duty 24/7," Gatchis said. "In uniform or not, you're still trained to react to something; you're going to do it. You're going to try and make it right. Unfortunately, we may be left out to dry."

Gatchis said supervisors first told him he would have to take vacation time or sick leave for the days he missed but later told him he could take paid administrative leave.

Workers' compensation would cover all his bills, but his insurance will leave Gatchis with deductibles and copays.

"He will be left with a pretty hefty bill," said Mike Britton, president of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 27, which gave Gatchis $500 to help cover his bills.

"This man was in full uniform, going home, and responded to an emergency. Does the public expect George Gatchis to walk away from that fire? This man did a heroic act, and they say, 'You're on your own."'

The Denver sheriff's office, part of the combined city and county of Denver, is governed by city rules that limit worker's compensation to on-duty injuries, sheriff's Sgt. Darryle Brown said Tuesday.

"In this case, even though it would make sense for us to enable him to be eligible, unfortunately at this time it is out of our hands," Brown said.

Denver City Attorney Cole Finegan said whether Gatchis was eligible for worker's compensation would depend on what jurisdiction he was in and whether he was doing duties he was legally empowered to do.

"He certainly is entitled to apply," Finegan said Tuesday.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation.

Three other children and a woman escaped unharmed. Their names have not been released.

He drives by a fire on the way home, makes an effort and saves a baby from certain death, risks his own fate, and they won't cover him. Way to support and watch out for your public servants... :evil:
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