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Wildland firefighters to get insurance option

A firefighter on the line at the Arapaho Fire in Wyoming. Photo courtesy InciWeb.org and Jim Kibler.

President Obama will issue executive order enabling firefighters to qualify for federal program

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Seasonal firefighters will catch a health care break, as President Obama this week said he’ll issue an executive order that would enable firefighters to buy federal health insurance.

The issue was in the spotlight last month when Obama visited Colorado Springs and the scene of the deadly and destructive Waldo Canyon Fire.

Activists also used the power of social media and the internet to quickly gather  tens of thousands of signatures via Change.org, where a Denver-based firefighter told his story. Firefighting hotshot crews also have their own Facebook page advocating for access to health insurance benefits.

The Daily Kos, with its tagline of News, Community and Action, helped organize the petition drive.

Outside the advocacy arena, the Denver Post’s Allison Sherry has done some excellent reporting on the issue.

Wildland firefighters have long sought access to federal health insurance benefits, but have been denied because they are categorized as temporary workers.

Even though they’re temporary employees, they sometimes — in busy fire seasons — work a year’s worth of hours in six months. Firefighting obviously is dangerous and may increase the risk for some chronic illnesses.

Congresswoman Diana DeGette earlier introduced a bill that would have given firefighters access to insurance, but given the politically charged atmosphere surrounding health care these days, it’s not clear how fast the House would have moved on that measure.

Obama’s executive order plows through any ideological opposition, though it’s hard to imagine how anyone could justify arguing against giving firefighters the option of buying insurance.

Obama’s move drew approval from Colorado Congressman Jared Polis, a Boulder Democrat.

“Brave firefighters protecting Colorado homes and businesses deserve the security of health insurance, which is why I’m so pleased that President Obama issued this executive order,” Polis said. “I’m happy the president acted so quickly following his visit to Colorado.”

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2 Responses

  1. Glad President Obama found a way to do the right thing without getting hung up with Congress. Asking firefighters to work in such a dangerous profession without healthcare is unconscionable.

  2. This is very appropriate. These firefighters are highly trained and perform very dangerous work. Our government saves a great deal of money laying them off at the end of each fire season which makes good sense, but we need and want their experience and skill available the next fire season. This is a great way to preserve that resource, provides benefits we all should have, provides a benefit they would normally get except for the salary savings of laying them off during the winter and it shows our appreciation for the service they provide. Good decision!

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