Last month on June 30th President Obama went to Colorado Springs, Colorado to view the devastation and to speak with the firemen who had fought the devastating flames that culminated in the deaths of two people, destroyed nearly 350 homes and forced about 35,000 people to be evacuated while firefighters sought to contain the state’s most destructive wildfire on record.
President Barack Obama has ordered his administration to offer health insurance to seasonal firefighters employed by the U.S. government. This order capped a 2-month-old bipartisan electronic petition drive started by firefighter John Lauer, 27-years old that has drawn more than 125,000 signatures. According to a White House Official, a formal announcement of the policy change is forthcoming.
While in Colorado, the President met with town officials whom he complimented on doing a great job in organizing and helping the citizens of the town and surrounding regions. He met with the Red Cross and with city firefighters, but perhaps the best thing to come out of his expedition to the site was that his attention was brought to a matter that directly affects the federal seasonal firefighters who came from all over the United States to help contain the fire.
About 15,000 federal firefighters are on payroll, but about 8,000 of them are considered temporary seasonal workers and have no federal benefits. According to one of these seasonal firefighters, John Lauer, (Hot-Shot Crew Member) seasonal fire-fighters like himself typically work the equivalent of a full-time year-round schedule in the six to seven month period. As Lauer pointed out, if he is injured on the job, he receives Worker’s Compensation (approximately 60% of his pay), but if he gets bronchitis the following winter as a residual effect of inhaling smoke for the preceding 6 months, he has no health coverage.
Lauer explained, “The seasonal firefighters, they’re the ones digging the trenches, cutting trees down, actually putting the fire out on the ground, and they’re the ones breathing the smoke.” Lauer’s petition letter to the president stated how fire-fighting conditions have led to cancer and permanent lung damage resulting from respiratory diseases.
Way to go, President Obama! Global Warming changes including increasing drought, high temps and gusting winds will no doubt make wildfires even a greater challenge this summer as well as next year before ACA goes into full effect for those who can’t afford health insurance on their own.
Although there is sure to be criticism from some (as there was for the President’s tour to view the devastation), let me be the first to say, “It is the right thing to do.”
Mitt Romney also went to the devastated Colorado countryside yesterday. What did Romney have to contribute to the issue? He urged Americans to help the area recover by vacationing there.