Seasonal Wildland Firefighters to Gain Health Benefits

Seasonal U.S. Forest Service firefighters will soon have the ability to purchase health insurance offered to full-time federal employees.


White House officials told The Denver Post Tuesday that President Obama has directed federal officials to begin offering seasonal U.S. Forest Service firefighters the ability to purchase federal health benefits.

Under a directive expected to be soon be made by the Office of Personnel Management, seasonal firefighters will get the option by the end of this month.

In late May, seasonal firefighter John Lauer started a petition on Change.org that has gained more than 125,000 signatures.

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Lauer said that the premature birth of his co-worker's son -- and the $70,000 in medical bills that followed -- spurred his crusade.

While the hospital eventually forgave most of Firefighter Nathan Ochs' and his wife Constance Van Kley's bill after the birth of their son, Rudy, in 2008, Lauer and the couple sought to help other colleagues in a similar situation.

"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 National Federation of Federal Employees.

Lauer told the Associated Press that he was "awestruck" by the speed of the decision.

"It really is going to make a big difference in a lot of people's lives," he said.

After being moved by the firefighters battling the Waldo Canyon Fire that he met during a trip to Colorado Springs, President Obama told his cabinet that he wanted to "find a solution" to the dilemma, according to The Denver Post report.

Because seasonal firefighters are not full-time U.S. Forest Service employees, they currently do not have the option of purchasing federal health insurance.

While the firefighters are covered by workers compensation if they are injured on the job, offseason health problems are not covered and neither are their families.

According to the Associated Press, seasonal firefighters make up more than half of the 15,000 wildland firefighters currently on the federal payroll.