An online petition to extend federal health care benefits to seasonal wildland firefighters is spreading like … well … wildfire.
John Lauer, a temporary firefighter for the U.S. Forest Service, and thousands of his colleagues aren’t eligible for the Federal Employees Health Benefits Plan because they only work for the government six months out of each year. But those six months are extremely busy — Lauer and other firefighters usually work 16-hour shifts each day — and dangerous.
And when medical misfortune strikes a firefighter’s family, it can be devastating. Lauer said his godson Rudy — the son of a friend and fellow firefighter — was born prematurely. Because Lauer’s friend didn’t have FEHBP health insurance, Rudy’s treatments cost $70,000.
Lauer had enough. He started an online petition on change.org in late May, hoping to get 100,000 signatures and send it to President Obama. The National Federation of Federal Employees, of which Lauer is a member, said it gathered about 700 signatures over the next couple of weeks. On June 13, NFFE heard about the petition and began pushing it to its Forest Service bargaining unit employees.
Interest in the petition exploded. By Friday morning, it crossed the 10,000-signature mark. At the time of this blog’s publication, it had nearly 45,000 signatures.
“I couldn’t stand by quietly anymore and watch my godson’s parents suffer without health insurance,” Lauer said in a NFFE news release. “Stories like this are a dime a dozen for seasonal firefighters. These are some of the bravest, most dedicated people I have ever met. They deserve insurance.”
NFFE said Lauer is currently fighting a fire in Colorado and was unavailable for comment. NFFE said the Forest Service hires between 5,000 and 10,000 seasonal wildland firefighters each year.