PENTWATER, Mich. (WZZM) -- After three  years of government review and red tape, the family of a fallen Pentwater firefighter has received word they will get a $300,000 death benefit.

It's a benefit surviving families can apply for from the Public Safety Benefits Program, part of the Department of Justice. That program has come under criticism because in some cases it takes years to determine eligibility for the benefit. Such was the case in Pentwater where family members had been waiting three years for an answer.

John Sayles died in 2012 when he collapsed and died of a burst aortic aneurysm on the way to the hospital. Last fall, in a special WZZM 13 Watchdog report, we detailed the process and the agonizing wait for the family. We also learned about one sticking point that seemed to be delaying a response. 

There was a question about whether Sayles died outside a 24-hour window. According to rules at the U.S. Department of Justice, to qualify for a death benefit a firefighter must have died within the first 24 hours after a shift. The timeline the Justice Department was using showed Sayles died 24 hours and 14 minutes after the fire call. It's assumed those additional 14 minutes held up the benefits.

After seeing our story, Congressman Bill Huizenga started his own investigation. Three and a half months later, the benefit was approved.

No matter what the reason, Congressman Bill Huizenga issued a statement, saying he was proud of the work his office did to hold Washington accountable to the Sayles family and deliver not only for them but the entire Pentwater community.

Melanie Sayles says the decision changes everything. In an interview, she said, "It means not having to relive that horrible night over and over and over, and being able to remember the good stuff. It's proving all his hard work paid off and that that my three girls deserve this and will get an education."

Want us to investigate a story? Email us at or call 616-559-1300.

13 On Your Side: