A top Arizona lawmaker is drafting new legislation that would allow the state to provide some benefits currently being denied to a majority of the families of the 19 elite Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew firefighters killed in an Arizona wildfire in late June.
Of the 19 firefighters killed in the Yarnell Fire on June 30, 13 were seasonal, rather than full-time employees, and were not enrolled in generous benefits programs available to the full-time employees.
Juliann Ashcraft, the widow of Andrew Ashcraft, a seasonal firefighter who was killed in the blaze, has for weeks been publicly criticizing the city officials in Prescott, the city from which the fire crew operated, for refusing to provide the same benefits to her family as those of the full-time firefighters.
“The bare bones of it is he [Andrew] worked full time,” the mother of four told The Arizona Republic this week. “I just know I’ve got to fight for what he earned. He died, and in doing so, he earned the right for his children to be provided for.”
One city official, who was not authorized to speak about the benefits publicly, told ABC News that as difficult as situation is, it is “clear.”
“He was part-time, like the twelve others,” the official said, referring to Ashcraft’s late husband. “It’s clear to me, but a lawyer may see it differently.”
The Republic reported that all of the fallen firefighters’ families would receive a one-time payment of $328,613 and “various other financial and tuition benefits.” But the families of seasonal firefighters currently are ineligible for additional benefits like a lump sum life insurance payment and monthly survivor benefits.
The new legislation, which is still being crafted, would retroactively recognize the fallen firefighters as full time employees when it comes to benefits for their families.
“To be putting your life on the line for part-time survivor benefits is not what I consider appropriate when people are defending the citizens of Arizona, particularly on state land,” Tobin told Prescott’s The Daily Courier.
A spokesperson for Tobin told ABC News the Speaker hopes that once introduced, the law will be passed quickly with bipartisan support.
Sole Survivor of Arizona Hotshot Tragedy Speaks Out
Reports of the new legislation emerged today after ABC News “Good Morning America” broadcast the first interview with the only survivor of the Hotshot tragedy, Brendan McDonough.
McDonough, the 20th man on the Hotshots crew, was assigned to be the lookout that day, a posting that saved his life.
McDonough said that he witnessed the wall of flames suddenly turn towards his colleagues.
“From where they were, they could see it picking up. So they kind of relayed to me, ‘Hey, Donut, we got eyes on it,’” McDonough remembers his captain telling him. “They said, ‘If you need to get out of there, go ahead and get out of there… we want you to be safe too,’ you know?”
McDonough radioed back a brief reply to call if they needed anything and that he’d be with the buggies. He is haunted by the last words of his boss. “Jesse Steed, my captain, said, ‘All right, I’ll see you soon.’ I said, ‘Okay.’”
That was the last time McDonough spoke to any of them.
“I asked a million times, ‘Why am I sitting here and why isn’t someone else? Why aren’t they sitting here with me?” he said.