July 12, 2012 7:33 am
Two weeks ago, Unionosity reported on the highly trained “hotshots” who fight wildfires without insurance across the country. Around 8,000 of these firefighters risk their lives regularly to tame the most dangerous fires, but because they don’t work full time, year round, they are considered temporary workers — therefore ineligible for healthcare benefits.
As we reported, 27 year old wildfire-fighter John Lauer started a Change.org petition encouraging support of the Affordable Care Act that would provide relief to hotshots. The petition has been a success — over 125,000 people have signed it since it was introduced two months ago. The response gained the attention of Rep. Diana Degette (D- Colo.), who introduced a bill that would give temporary firefighters benefits equivalent to those received by full-time land management employees.
The Waldo Canyon wildfire broke out in Colorado on June 23rd and raged until July 10th, when firefighters finally succeeded in tamping down the blazes. Reuters reports, “The so-called Waldo Canyon, which broke out June 23, killed two people and gutted nearly 350 homes and forced the evacuation of some 35,000 people.” When President Obama visited Colorado Springs late last month to survey the damage, the issue of temporary firefighters without healthcare benefits was brought to his attention. Just hours after Representative Degette introduced the new bill, the President ordered federal agencies to offer full-time equivalent benefits to seasonal firefighters.
NPR reports on Lauer’s response to the Executive Order: “The president’s move is “surreal,” Lauer says. “This has been an issue that’s been out there so long and nothing’s ever happened on it. I think a lot of folks just thought this is the way it’s going to be forever. It’s changing the game for them.”
Lauer, who has been fighting wildfires “in early nearly every state West of the Mississippi” for six years, has not had health insurance to date. He has not had a major catastrophe either, but in his petition he speaks about co-workers who have incurred huge hospital bills, and has stated that though he loves his job, the occupation is patently unfriendly to firefighters with families.
Well done, Mr. Lauer.
Image from here