Yarnell Hill Fire: Arizona legislation planned on responders' benefits

PRESCOTT, AZ - Some of the firefighters killed in an Arizona wildfire were classified as seasonal employees with the city of Prescott, so their families don't qualify for full survivors' benefits.

An Arizona legislative leader wants to change that. The family of one of the fallen firefighters also has launched an online petition to secure the health and lifetime benefits they say he deserved.

House Speaker Andy Tobin is drafting retroactive legislation to provide regular benefits to not only the seasonal Granite Mountain Hotshots who died in the June 30 wildfire near Yarnell, but to any responder who dies on state lands, the Daily Courier (http://bit.ly/14jAloP) reported.

"To be putting your life on the line for part-time survivor benefits is not what I consider appropriate when people are defending the citizens of Arizona, particularly on state land," Tobin said.

Another bill planned by Tobin would have the state cover the costs of the death-related retirement benefits provided by Prescott. Tobin said he wants to introduce the bills in the regular legislative session that starts in January.

The city of Prescott has said it cannot legally reclassify 13 of the Granite Mountain Hotshots as full-time employees so their families can receive additional benefits. The six others who died after the fire cut off their escape route were permanent employees.

Juliann Ashcraft has been pressing the city to reclassify her husband, Andrew Ashcraft, as a full-time employee particularly because he worked full-time hours and received pay similar to other full-time employees. The couple had four children.

"I will do anything that I can to fight for the other 13 men that they're classifying as seasonal because they have lives and families, and they gave the ultimate sacrifice for our community," she said Wednesday at a news conference in Prescott. "And they're not being treated fairly."

Andrew Ashcraft's father has gathered more than 3,000 signatures in an online petition seeking lifetime health benefits for the seasonal employees.

"You cannot imagine what it's like to lose a child," he said in a news release Wednesday. "But to watch my son's family struggle to get the benefits they deserve is just maddening."

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