Arizona legislature to debate benefits for first responders

After it was revealed that there was a large discrepancy between the survivor benefits for the families of full time and temporary firefighters on the Granite Mountain Hotshots, some members of Arizona’s legislature have been considering what, if any, action should be taken for the families of the 19 firefighters that were killed June 30 on the Yarnell Hill Fire, and for future fatalities.

A committee in the state’s House of Representatives is taking up the issue today. Alia Rau, a reporter for the Arizona Republic, will be live tweeting about the hearing Tuesday afternoon. You can follow her at @aliarau.

According to AZCentral, the bills the legislature is considering could cover an array of issues, including:

  • Who reimburses fire departments that helped fight the Yarnell Hill Fire.
  • Who helps pay for Yarnell infrastructure repairs.
  • Who pays death benefits in wildfire situations.
  • Whether seasonal first responders can participate in state retirement systems.
  • Whether there is a way to retroactively provide benefits to the 13 seasonal hotshots.

“Before the Yarnell fire, nobody thought we were doing anything wrong. We didn’t hear fire coming in saying ‘Our hotshots aren’t covered if something happens.’ We didn’t have cities saying, ‘If something happens, we’ll be in deep trouble,’ ” House Speaker Andy Tobin said. “This has been a punch in the gut. Now it’s time to talk about what we’ve learned from it and what our policy should be going forward.”

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

8 thoughts on “Arizona legislature to debate benefits for first responders”

  1. The unfortunate reality is that there are some jobs that are, in fact, just seasonal in nature (think snow plow operators, white water rafting guides, fruit pickers, and yes, most western wildland firefighters); and second, giving any employee “status” does cost the city, county, State or Feds a bunch of additional costs in leave and insurance, as well as retirement contributions. It’s not a great situation, and the deaths of the Granite Mountain IHC folks really bring home the disparity. I’m afraid the the emotion of the moment is overriding the cold hard economic facts that our legistators have to face every year when developing budgets and tax burdens on their citizens. Maybe we should follow the advice of those who believe that the “private sector” is the right model, and convert our suppression forces to private contractors? No one says “boo” about those folks not getting bennies, and then taxpayer funding would be clean and clearly identified up front – – – until something like “Yarnell” happens again! Too many tough questions and not enough workable answers in today’s political and economic climate.

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    1. “Seasonal” does not mean the same thing as “temporary”.

      Temporary means that the work is not of an ongoing nature. i.e. never needed this work done this before and don’t expect to need it done again; a brief workload surge that may occur occasionally but not consistently and too much for the career workforce to soak up; a term-limited replacement for injury, detail, military service, etc that cannot be covered by the career workforce.

      Seasonal simply means that the work does not last year around, as in the examples provided by Emmett. But snow will also fall next winter and the winter after; fires will burn and houses built and fruit picked in all the next summers. For the most part, that is not temporary work, that’s permanent. And seasonal. Some portion of the workload is variable and surge and arguably temporary in nature, but so that is true in nominally year-round employment. I retired from a career as a 19/7 seasonal employee. As Leo suggests, I left as a GS-7/10 or thereabouts. But it can be done.

      The federal government, the self-declared model employer in this country, has been conflating the terms and abusing temporary employment authority, probably since Gifford Pinchot finished his probationary year. And agency budgets for seasonal fieldwork have been undercosted on the backs of temporary employees ever since. Because it absolutely does cost more to provide career tenure and to cover employer’s share of insurance and retirement benefits. But it would be right, and just, and legal to do so.

      The American public — the same public now outraged over similar employment arrangements by the city of Prescott — have supported this abuse at the federal level by way of their elected officials and executive appointees since Day One. America is welcome to step up at any time, but the outrage is nothing new.

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  2. Very well stated by both Morgan and Leo. The “My Ball” BS needs to go away. I too am a seasonal. I am on a volunteer dept as well. I busted my butt to get to an Engine boss level. And working on a IC 4 with the hope to get to at least a TFL. But with the “overhead” and the attitude seen with the seasonal folks, it becomes almost impossible to not only move up but to gain the respect. Just because I don’t pull up in a “agency” truck does not mean my IQ level just dropped.

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  3. Should every part time worker be entitled to full time benefits? Or should it just be for wild land firefighters?

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  4. Here , here Mr Morgan

    The LMA’s have played this card looking enough…..problem is ….OPM, OMB, the Congress and alllllllll the “leadership” have done NOTHING to rectify the situation in all 100 plus years of all the USDA and USDOI who have enjoyed allllllll the successes on the very backs of the people that they purport to care about.

    I do not even suggest this career field any more because of the very people that state “they care!”

    I will tell them now…it.’s a personal choice and you will never get rich or above a GS7 without nearly a masters degree to operate in the world of fire or forestry as a perm unless I can proven wrong by a strong hiring wave of holders of a BS in Forestry

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  5. Having been a seasonal many years ago I often felt like a second class employee with out benefits, stability and at times respect. Yet, then, as today seasonals often do the hardest jobs, take more risks and given less in terms of pay, benefits and thanks. I have seen GS-5 seasonals put long term GS-9/11/12 permanents to shame by getting things done quicker, better, safer and more efficiently. I had one permanent supervisor tell me he denied my promotion because my “seasonal” park experience did not count as real park service life experience. Another one is when a seasonal finds dirty laundry or is the bearer of unpleasant news to supervisors or management, the response is, “fire them, they are only a seasonal”

    This second class employment treatment needs to end. Count less times I have heard the comment, “Without our seasonals we would be lost”

    The action of Arizona is a step in the right direction.

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