Seasonal Firefighters’ Campaign for Health Care Victorious as White House Extends New BenefitsTuesday, July 10, 2012
(National Federation of Federal Employees)
Contact: Cory Bythrow, Communications Director
Phone: (202) 216-4458
Washington, D.C. – It is said that one must never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world. Today, John Lauer, a NFFE member and federal firefighter, did exactly that by succeeding in his campaign to extend health care benefits to the more than 8,000 wildland firefighters battling blazes all throughout the country.
The news came today as the White House announced an interim change to federal regulations which leave temporary seasonal employees like Lauer ineligible to buy into the federal employee health insurance plan. Under the interim regulation, these firefighters may now participate in the plan – a minor change, but one that means the world to Lauer and his colleagues. For NFFE National President William R. Dougan, a former temporary seasonal wildland firefighter himself, the victory had been a long time coming.
“No longer do our firefighters have to fear incurring thousands in medical bills if they are injured outside of the job, or if their child gets sick,” said Dougan. “These brave individuals put their lives on the line every year to protect our homes and communities. I could not be more proud that this new policy returns the favor by giving them the protection they need.”
The campaign for benefits began two months ago when Lauer and some friends from the Custer, South Dakota-based Tatanka hotshot firefighting crew came together to start a petition on www.change.org. Asking friends, family, and coworkers to join the cause, the petition had a just over 1,000 signatures by the time they left to battle the High Park wildfire outside of Fort Collins, CO. Working alongside his union, the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), Lauer took any spare time he had between shifts to spread the word and forward the cause. By the time he and his crew returned just a week later, the petition had reached over 90,000 signatures. Today that number stands at more than 126,000, with signatures from every state in the nation and several U.S. territories.
The story soon became a media sensation, spawning hundreds of print, digital, TV, and radio appearances all across the country. Appearances in the NBC Nightly News, Associated Press, Washington Post, and other media heavyweights brought the issue to tens of millions more Americans as the campaign gathered steam. All the while, NFFE leadership continued working behind the scenes with leaders at the White House and OPM to develop a solution to this injustice.
After just two months from the petition’s modest beginning, to this day, the results are unmistakable: every temporary seasonal wildland firefighter can sleep easy knowing that they are eligible to buy health insurance.
“This was one of those issues that made so much sense, it was just screaming for someone to change it,” said Dougan. “I want to thank President Obama and OPM Director John Berry for their diligent work in delivering this essential benefit to our brave firefighters. Now we look forward to working them on developing a permanent solution.”