Firefighters' benefits divide Ariz. city
The Arizona city where an elite firefighting team was based banded together after 19 of the team's firefighters died in a wildfire.
That unity has quickly faded after residents learned the city wasn't paying full-time benefits to all of the families of the firefighters who died on June 30.
City leaders are receiving both vicious emails and ones commending them for not letting emotion get in the way. Grieving widows have lashed out at city leaders in public meetings, news conferences and national TV appearances.
The source of the dispute is the fact that 13 of the firefighters were classified as temporary employees and not entitled to full survivors' benefits. As a result, they receive smaller death benefits than the families of the six firefighters classified as full-time.
The widow of fallen firefighter Andrew Ashcraft brought attention to the issue by making public pleas to city officials, saying her husband worked full-time hours and, therefore, deserved the more lucrative benefits.
From the city’s point of view, the law is clear.
The 13 firefighters were not classified as full time, and the city said changing the rules after the fact would be illegal and also cost Prescott millions of dollars over the lifetime of the firefighters’ dependents. It also said it made no promises that any of the temporary workers would be promoted to permanent positions.
Each of firefighters’ families will receive a tax-free $328,000 lump sum from the federal government, Social Security benefits, workers’ compensation and free tuition for their children at Arizona universities.
The families of the six full-time employees also get health insurance, an increased life insurance payment and the men’s annual salaries.
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