Saturday, June 16, 2012

People who fight wildfires as seasonal employees deserve health-care coverage

Started by: John Lauer, Denver, CO
Right now, wildfires are raging in New Mexico, Colorado and Arizona. And more are sure to come.  
I'm a part of a hotshot crew of firefighters. We are on call to go anywhere, at any time to fight fires in our country. It's intense work, but my crew is like my family and we are all committed to serving our communities.
Because wildfire is more common from May to October, most of us are seasonally employed. More than 90% of us return year after year and we often work the equivalent of a full year in 6-7 months. Despite this -- and despite putting our lives on the line every day -- we still don’t have the opportunity to buy into a government health care plan even at the most basic level. 
This is because we are classified as temporary workers.
I have been a wildland firefighter for 6 years and I still don't have health insurance, but I'm one of the lucky ones. Just in my own hotshot crew, I've seen the damage and suffering this lack of coverage can produce. 
My godson, Rudy, was born prematurely. Rudy’s dad, a fellow firefighter, was stuck with $70,000 worth of hospital bills that he and his wife couldn’t pay back. All because the federal government won’t allow him to access health insurance. Another crew member’s child, who was born even more recently, required special attention in the hospital and his parents’ are now facing a $40,000 in medical bills. 
Wildland firefighters face enormous risks in order to serve and protect our communities. In the past 12 years, 179 wildland firefighters have been killed in the line of duty, and the conditions of the firefighting environment have been linked to cancer and permanent lung damage.
We want federal legislation that gives us that option, but we know that Congress can be slow moving. That's why we are asking President Obama to extend health coverage benefits to seasonal wildland firefighters.
Baby Rudy doesn’t deserve to be born into debt -- his father is a hero.

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