A seasonal wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service started an online petition in late May to extend federal healthcare benefits to him and thousands others, and within the last few days it has really begun to pick up some steam.
John Lauer's petition on Change.org gathered around 700 signatures over the first couple of weeks, but when the National Federation of Federal Employees found out about his effort on June 12, it began pushing it out to union members and by Friday afternoon, the total had reached more than 45,000 signatures.
Lauer, who is currently fighting one of the wildfires currently raging in Colorado, is aiming to collect 100,000 signatures before shipping it off to President Obama.
Each year, Lauer and others like him battle wildfires for six months throughout the country working typical shifts of 16 hours on the fire line.
Despite the eminent danger seasonal wildland firefighters face, they are not included in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan because they are part-time employees.
Recently, the premature birth of his co-worker's son -- and the $70,000 in medical bills that followed -- spurred his crusade.
"I couldn’t stand by quietly anymore and watch my godson’s parents suffer without health insurance," Lauer said in a statement released by the NFFE on Friday.
"Stories like this are a dime a dozen for seasonal firefighters. These are some of the bravest, most dedicated people I have ever met. They come back year after year and put their lives on the line to protect their communities and serve their country. They deserve insurance. That's why I started the petition."
He said that it's been surreal to see the petition take off and believes it is a cause worth fighting for.
"It started as a small thing between me and my buddies on the fire line, but now it’s reaching people across the country," he said. "I and everyone I work with are so grateful for peoples’ support."