Dallas firefighter's widow fighting for better benefits after his death

The widow of a Dallas firefighter is pushing for the city of Dallas to take better care of its first responder families.

The woman’s husband was an active duty firefighter before he died suddenly on his day off. Just days after his death, his wife and three sons were cut off from their health benefits.

If David Walters had died while he was on duty here at Fire Station 55, his family would continue to receive their health benefits. But because it was his day off, the city’s only option for his family is covered through the COBRA program at a cost of $1,000 a month.

David Walters spent more than 19 years responding to crises. But now his wife, Kristi Walters, feels the city of Dallas has left her with a crisis of her own.

David, who loved to eat healthy and work out, died at age 50 of a sudden cardiac event the day after Thanksgiving.

“He got quiet. Made a sound,” Kristi recalled. “I looked over. He had fallen to the side of his chair.”

Kristi later learned her family’s health insurance with the city ended the same day as David’s funeral on December 1.

The cost of the COBRA plan is more than half of Kristi’s survivor pension benefit.  As a part-time fitness instructor who’s been a stay-at-home mom for 19 years, it’s forcing her to make drastic cuts.

“I made about $20,000 last year,” she said.

Kristi met with city leaders on March 4 about her concerns. But for two months, she’s only gotten the runaround.

“Now they’ve changed it to an undetermined amount of time,” she said.

But on Friday, Dallas City Councilman Adam McGough gave a different answer.

“We want to take care of our first responders,” he said.

McGough chairs the public safety committee. He said because of Kristi’s case, he’s asked city staff to break down the cost of extending survivor benefits at an upcoming meeting in June.

“We have to look at all the financial impacts. We can’t make decisions that aren’t sound, but this impacts so few in fire and police. It’s something we can do,” he said. “I realize time is of the essence because this impacts certain families right now.”

Kristi hopes other city leaders will see it that way, too.

“They have let us down,” she said. “That alarm went off at Station 55. They have 60 seconds to get out. David never said, ‘Oh, let me think about this.’”

Kristi believes her husband’s death was related to all the smoke he inhaled as a firefighter. His death certificate shows his problem with his heart began in his lungs.