Thousands Must Fight Wildfires Uninsured
...because they're 'temporary workers'
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 27, 2012 11:57 AM CDT
Homes are destroyed by the Waldo Canyon fire in the Mountain Shadows area of Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday, June 26, 2012.   (AP Photo/The Gazette,Jerilee Bennett)

(Newser) – As if fighting an "epic" and "apocalyptic" wildfire doesn't sound bad enough, try doing it without health insurance. That's actually what an estimated 15,000 to 20,000 federal firefighters do, writes Sarah Kliff for the Washington Post. "Of all the jobs where you might want health insurance, firefighting near certainly ranks near the top of the list," she asserts, backing that up by explaining that firefighters work two-week shifts comprised of 18-hour days. With days that long, they can pack in a full year's worth of work in just six months—which is what many federal firefighters tend to work. And that makes them temporary employees, which causes a health-insurance catch-22.

Per federal regulations, temporary employees of the Forest Service don't get health insurance. And they typically earn between $25,000 and $35,000 a year, the president of the National Federal of Federal Employees explains, meaning that for many, "the only way they can afford insurance is if they have a spouse that might be able to get coverage under an employer." The Post talks to the 27-year-old member of a "hotshot" crew (a sort of elite team) who started a Change.org petition clamoring for insurance. He notes that one co-worker's son was born premature, leading to $70,000 in medical bills. "It just feels really unfair. I've seen all the stuff his father does. We're dispatched from 6am until 10:30pm. Then we’re sleeping in the dirt."