Battle over firefighter benefits in Prescott

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by Kristine Harrington

azfamily.com

Posted on August 13, 2013 at 6:32 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 16 at 12:59 PM

PRESCOTT, Ariz. -- The Granite Mountain Hot Shots are comprised of 20 people. 19 were killed fighting the Yarnell fire, and according to the city of Prescott, only six were permanent employees, guaranteed lifetime benefits.

“My husband Andrew did work full time for the city of Prescott he was a full time employee,” said Andrew’s wife Juliann Ashcraft. “He worked full time hours, he had a full time responsibility and a full time salary. There is no way I can fathom how the city is justifying him as seasonal or part time."

According to both federal and state documents, Andrew Ashcraft has never been considered fully qualified or a career employee.  The city recognized him as a seasonal employee hired to fight wildfires.
But Juliann believes her husband had been promoted and was eligible for benefits.

“I was there when he got a phone call that said he was given a lead position and was now full time,” said Juliann Ashcraft.

The city has found no record of any such conversation and is now combing through emails but has yet to find any evidence of a promotion being promised.

In a statement released today the Prescott Fire Department, Division Chief Darrell Willis said, "I never promised to promote any seasonal Granite Mountain Hotshot to a permanent position."

And the city says promotions cannot be given verbally.

According to city records, in February of 2013, Andrew Aschraft was rehired or reactivated as a temporary seasonal employee with a rate increase.

Andrew Ashcraft then twice in 2013 applied for a permanent position that would offer benefits, first in March and again in April. But both jobs were given to others.

“Everyone else seems to be doing what our Granite Mountain Hot Shots did, going above and beyond. But the city officials are not,” said Ashcraft.

The City of Prescott says it can’t afford to because if it extended the death benefits to Ashcraft then it would have to extend them to the families of all 13 seasonal employees.

Also the city believes extending the benefits to those seasonal employees could be illegal given Article 9, Sec. 7 of the Arizona Constitution, commonly referred to as the Gift Clause, provides: Neither the state, nor any county, city, town, municipality, or other subdivision of the state shall ever give or loan its credit in the aid of, or make any donation or grant, by subsidy or otherwise, to any individual, association, or corporation[.]

As it stands now, the families of those seasonal employees killed get:


1. $2,700/month (tax free) workman's compensation death benefit (monthly, paid for by the city's insurer, the Arizona Municipal Risk Retention Pool (http://www.amrrp.com)
2. $328,612.73 - Federal Department of Justice Death Benefit (one-time, paid for by the federal government)
3. Free in-state tuition for herself and her kids. And, the federal college stipend for the kids.
4. Education Assistance  from the feds $987 a month for room and board
5. Arizona tuition waivers for spouse and children
6. Social security

The families of those permanent employee also get:

1. Life Insurance Payment: $100,000 (one time, paid by the insurance company)
2. Access to health insurance at the employee rate: Benefits vary depending on plan chosen, etc., but the estimated cost to the City of Prescott is $750/month
3. Lifetime pension benefits paid monthly by the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System of the State of Arizona (PSPRS). This benefit depends on compensation at the time of death, and earnings in previous years.

Seasonal employees do not pay into the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. Still, Speaker Andy Tobin would have all benefits extended to all firefighters killed fighting a fire on state land.

“At the end of the day, they work hand in hand and use the same shovel so in the end I think they should be treated the same,” said Tobin. “I think they should all be treated the same, either have a pension based on what they paid in or a life policy or health benefits something proportionate and respectful.”

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