On June 30th, 2013, just a little over a month ago now, nineteen “Hotshot” firefighters gave their lives battling an intense wildfire in Yarnell, Arizona. The crew was made up of twenty firefighters in all. That means they lost 95% of their crew battling one fire, all of the men gone from this Earth far too soon. Of all the first responders, those who fight fires seem to perish the most doing what they feel they were called to do. While police officers put their lives on the line every day as well, every fire a firefighter fights is a dangerous mission for him, while police officers aren’t in shootouts nearly as often.
The point I’m trying to make here is probably an obvious one, but it bears repeating: firefighters are essential components to our civilized society, protecting our homes and our loved ones all day, every day. In Arizona though, something tells me some may need a refresher course. In the immediate aftermath of the deadly fire, the city of Prescott, Arizona said the families of the firefighters who perished would be receiving lifetime benefits, including health care, however in the ensuing weeks, they’ve gone back on that promise, classifying thirteen of them as seasonal employees and therefore ineligible to receive the lifetime benefits.
One surviving widow, Juliann Ashcraft, has four children and is now the sole breadwinner for the family. Ashcraft’s husband Andrew was just 29-years-old when he gave his life battling the fire with his other Hotshot crew members. The decision by the city of Prescott to rescind their offer of a payout of around $380,000 and lifetime medical benefits puts her, and the other surviving family members, in one hell of a bind, and it’s hard to believe that a city wouldn’t keep a promise to 19 families whose only offense was that they lost a loved one while trying to protect the city from the fire in the first place. That’s exactly what’s happened, but why?
I’m not here to politicize a fire — it was started by a lightning strike, and clearly it would just be plain stupid to try to politicize that. I’m not even all that interested in overly-politicizing the city’s offer and then retraction of the payout and lifetime benefits. I do however think a few things should be noted. Arizona is a red state and the politics of the state lean accordingly. The biggest line of rhetoric from Tea Partiers is that the government spends too much because they tax too much. When conservatives get elected they tend to slash taxes which in turn leads to less money, which in turn leads to fewer services like firefighters and police officers.
I have no doubt in my mind that the decision to rescind the offers of payouts were done because the city looked how much $380,000 is multiplied by nineteen and they freaked out, perhaps with good reason. I don’t know what their city’s bank accounts look like. What I do know is that it’s just obscene to expect people to lay down their lives in protection of our assets and loved ones, and then when one (or nineteen) actually do lay down their lives in sacrifice to the fire, their families are summarily dumped into the cold because of some idiotic technicality on the number of hours the firefighters work.
I understand that laws and rules are written for a reason, but this is just one more example of a stunning lack of empathy, compassion and common sense in this country. I have no idea if red state politics played a role in this particular decision, I just know that when you have a political party that is putting out a message that all government is bad, all taxpayer-funded employees are evil and lazy, and that paying a single dollar in taxes is like being robbed at gunpoint, the results you often wind-up with are bewilderingly devoid of human empathy, and regardless of your political leanings, that’s just wholly unacceptable.