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Apparently, 13 of the families whose loved ones from the Prescott, AZ, Granite Mountain Hotshots Crew were killed during a wind-driven fire on June 30, 2013, were unable to collect full benefits from the City of Prescott and the State of Arizona at press time because they were listed as seasonal employees. This doesn’t affect the other six firefighters, who were full-time employees. The problem lies in the fact that the seasonal employees did not contribute into a state retirement system, nor pay premiums for life insurance or health benefits through the city.
People are upset and emotions are running high. Many citizens are asking why the City of Prescott does not provide equal benefits. The 13 seasonal firefighters were not covered by the city’s health insurance program. The city did not make contributions on their behalf to the retirement system, so their survivors cannot collect. I am sure there are many who would like to do what they can for the families, but legally may not be able to do so. One petition was started online so the family of one firefighter can collect benefits. One state legislator said he wanted to draft a retroactive bill so the State of Arizona would cover the additional costs. Members of the retirement system may even have a right to a say about this. Work is being done to see what can be done and how the benefits can be funded in a way that it would stand up to a possible court challenge. At press time, the issue had not been resolved.
You can bet that other fire departments in cities, counties and states across the country have similar rules and laws that apply to firefighters, whether they are volunteer, seasonal, paid-on-call or members of combination departments. The time to figure out whether firefighters are covered is before a tragedy occurs, not after. States have different rules, so an analysis should be undertaken immediately to see whether your members are covered and, if not, what can be done to provide adequate coverage for their families if they aren’t here to provide for them.
There are specific rules for the distribution of federal funds when a firefighter dies in the line of duty. The Public Safety Officers Benefit (PSOB) Act of 1976 was initiated to provide $50,000 to survivors. There have been additional categories of emergency responders who have been added to the list of those eligible for benefits. There have been many revisions to the law, and today the benefit has steadily increased to $328, 612.73. Several hundred applications for federal benefits are reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice each year.
There are apparently many rules and regulations that allow for an approval or disapproval of a claim. There can be complications in cases of marriages, divorces and other family changes, so having up-to-date beneficiary cards is important. No firefighter intends to respond to a call and not come back.
In this issue, we present the fourth installment of our exclusive National Run Survey. This month, we report on pay scales and staffing levels for 238 career fire departments, representing 47 states and four Canadian provinces. We also report on the busiest ambulances and busiest non-transport EMS units. We thank the departments that submitted statistics and invite other career departments to participate in our survey next year. Also this month, Mark Emery and Stewart Rose offer the latest installment in their series “How to Nail Your First-Due Responsibility” – important information for every fire chief, company officer and firefighter. n