The deaths of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots in the Yarnell Fire became a national story about the sacrifice of first responders as they protect us from disaster. Firefighters, city officials, politicians, dignitaries and grateful citizens turned out to honor them at a large memorial service. Virtually the entire city of Prescott, AZ was covered in flags and signs. Flags across the state flew at half mast. And people across the nation have contributed to support the families left behind.
Unfortunately, for many of the Hotshots’ families the recognition and support ends there.
13 of the 19 were classified as part-time or seasonal workers. As a result, their families are not eligible for survivor benefits, life-insurance payments or continued health insurance benefits. Instead, they will receive a lump-sum payment of $328,000 from the Public Safety Officers’ Benefit Program and worker’s compensation which pays a maximum benefit of $2,792 a month.
That may seem generous. But it doesn’t go far when young wives are left to provide for children. Especially if their husbands, due to the nature of their jobs, were unlikely to be able to afford life insurance.
By contrast, families of the six full-time firefighters will receive average lump-sum payments of $470,000 and up to $100,000 annually for years to come. This raises numerous questions about the treatment of those we regard as heroes.
Although Andrew Ashcraft worked more than 40 hours a week, the City of Prescott classified him as a part-time worker. The reason is obvious: Part-time workers don’t have to be offered benefits. Ashcraft and the other 12 “part-time” Hotshots faced the same dangers as the full-time firefighters. They met the same fate. Yet their families do not qualify for survivor’s benefits from the pension, life insurance, accidental death and health insurance plans. They may not even qualify for Social Security benefits.
After mourning the loss of the Granite Mountain Hotshots; after basking in the limelight of the national attention and visits by a number of celebrities, the very conservative leadership of the City of Prescott responded to questions from Mrs. Ashcraft with an official (and officious) statement that was demeaning to her and her four children. She has threatened to sue, but she shouldn’t have to face such uncertainty in the aftermath of her loss. The City of Prescott should do the right thing and reclassify Andrew Ashcraft to reflect his actual (if not official) position as a full-time employee.
If only elected officials were as committed to doing the right thing as the Prescott 19, this wouldn’t be an issue.