Crocodile Tears And Denial For One Of The Prescott 19.

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.

Death Of Yarnell 19 May Be The Result Of Sequestration Cuts.

On June 30, 2013, 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots wildfire crew perished in the Yarnell Fire in northern Arizona. As you probably know, an investigation is underway to determine the events that led to their deaths. But one fact is already clear: The wildfire crews were stretched thin and firefighting resources have been dramatically reduced by federal budget cuts.

According to Sen. John McCain, air tankers have been reduced from 42 to 10. He also estimated that a $115 million budget cut would result in roughly 500 fewer firefighters and 50 fewer fire engines despite the fact that western states are experiencing a rise in wildfires.

The day of the loss of the Yarnell 19, resources had been diverted to another wildfire near Kingman, Arizona. At the same time, there were major fires in Colorado, Nevada and Utah.

Unfortunately, this event demonstrates that budget cuts have real consequences. Especially big, dumb, across-the-board cuts like those resulting from sequestration. We should all remember that the federal budget isn’t just about taxes and money.  It’s about services, resources and American lives.

The Yarnell 19 are a prime example.