Seasonal firefighters step up campaign for federal health insurance, claim Internet petition has gathered more than 100,000 signatures

LOS ANGELES , June 25, 2012 () – Seasonal firefighters who work for the U.S. Forest Service are hoping to gain enough support to get federal health insurance coverage at their jobs as the nation debates health care, reported the Denver Post on June 23.

U.S. Senator Mark Udall’s office in Colorado is studying the issue, according to a spokesperson for the senator, a Congressional leader in the West who the firefighters have long lobbied for help with their cause.

The issue is also being looked into by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, which can influence benefits policy, along with congressional action, the Denver Post reported.

The Forest Service does not provide access to health care coverage for temporary workers, said Jace Ratzlaff, a legislative affairs spokesperson in the service’s Colorado region.

The Forest Service says that people who sign up to be firefighters know the drawbacks. Being a seasonal worker appeals to those who want to make a lot of money in a short time, said Ratzlaff, the Denver Post reported.

Base hourly pay for federal wildland firefighters is about US$14, said Oregon-based firefighter Aaron Alpe. In six months, a firefighter can make $30,000 or more, with a lot of overtime on big fires.

If firefighters are hurt while on the job, they are covered under workman’s comp, said Ratzlaff, reported the Denver Post.

However, the Forest Service can take a long time to pay claims and some health problems caused by exposure to smoke and soot can lead to long-term ailments that also occur in the winter, Alpe said.

Alpe and others say that providing federal health insurance buy-in would attract more firefighters and create stability in their ranks.

Firefighters have taken their fight for the coverage to the Internet, where they claim to have more than 100,000 signatures on a petition, the Denver Post reported.

The primary source of this article is the Denver Post, Denver, Colorado, on June 23, 2012.

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