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Full disability fails to slow chief's rise // ERNEST CARRERA

Ernest Carrera retired from the Tampa Fire Department in 1978 with a bad back and a healthy disability pension. But his back problems didn't prevent him from taking on a new career at the Hillsborough property appraiser's office.

Today, as chief of the residential department, Carrera, 65, is paid $54,849 annually. That's on top of the $27,270 he receives, tax-free, from his disability pension.

Complaining of back pain from a herniated disc from an on-the-job injury, Carrera retired from the city Fire Department after 22 years with the rank of captain. He initially was denied a disability pension but won an appeal. He has collected a monthly check ever since.

Since 1988, those payments have totaled more than $209,000.

After his retirement, Carrera, an Army veteran who studied at Florida Central Business College, worked for a while in real estate and as an insurance inspector. He joined the property appraiser's office as a $4.04-an-hour clerk in 1983, then worked as a building evaluator and field inspector _ a job that requires walking much of the day.

Carrera says he was able to do the work despite his disability.

"I was disabled as a firefighter, not disabled to do other work," he said. "I just can't do any heavy lifting."

In 1989, in a deposition taken about a fall his wife had suffered, Carrera testified that her injury had forced him to do almost all the physical work at home.

"I do a lot of the washing and cleaning in the house, the vacuuming," Carrera said. "I do all the shopping."

Carrera never mentioned his disability, and his wife's lawsuit was later settled out of court.

After Alderman was elected, Carrera was promoted from field inspector to appraisal manager. Carrera and his wife have contributed $1,200 to Alderman's campaign this year.

Since being made a supervisor, Carrera has had jobs that have mostly kept him in the office. But he still experiences back pain.

"My back has always been a problem," he said.