PHOENIX -- The chairman of an Arizona House committee examining how to provide equal benefits to part-time members of a firefighting crew who died in June said they'll likely have to look to charities to fill the gap because of a state constitutional ban on gifts of public funds.
That shouldn't be difficult because charities have already raised more than $11 million since 19 firefighters died in the Yarnell Hill fire in June, said Rep. Justin Pierce, R-Mesa, who led a meeting of the House Public Safety, Military and Regulatory Affairs Committee on Tuesday. He believes once the committee comes up with an amount needed to treat the part-time workers' families equally, private funds will quickly be raised.
The inequity between the part-time and full-time members of Prescott's Granite Mountain Hotshots has angered the survivors of the part-time employees.
Of the 13 part timers, five had wives and children who won't receive health benefits like the full timers, and also won't receive a lifetime pension payment equal to the firefighters' yearly pay.
They will receive many of the other benefits, including a one-time federal death benefit of $328,000, workmen's compensation pay and free tuition at state universities.
The average ongoing yearly benefit for the full-time firefighters is $112,000, compared to $25,000 for the part timers who left immediate survivors.
The 100 Club, which supports fallen police and firefighters, has raised $4.3 million, although it has spent $1.7 million on the memorial service, burial expenses and support to wives, girlfriends and children of the fallen, executive director Sharon Knutson-Felix said. That leaves about $2.6 million earmarked for members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.
Two Prescott-based charities have collected $6.3 million, and another group nearly $460,000 for an education fund for the firefighters' children and their families. A committee is examining how to split the funds and expects to begin disbursements early next year.
The donations ``far exceed anything we've seen before,'' Knutson-Felix told the committee. ``I wish the outpouring was the same for every firefighter and police officer.''
House Speaker Andy Tobin urged the committee at its first meeting last month to quickly come up with a plan to pay full survivor and other benefits to the part-time firefighters.
He also wanted the committee to craft a plan to help Yarnell rebuild and to pay costs for Prescott.
Prescott alone faces a $5.2 million payment to the state's public safety retirement system for the payouts for six full-time members covered by the system. Other costs include $6 million for other agency aid to fight the fire, and up to $20 million to rebuild Yarnell's aging water system, which was damaged by heavy fire trucks.
Pierce's focus is on making sure that future part-time public safety workers don't face the same issue. That may include laws that require all public safety workers to be in the state's public safety retirement plan, or it may include a catastrophic coverage plan that would provide equal death benefits for those who die on duty.
``What we don't want to do is have to do this again,'' Pierce said, referring to off-session hearings to deal with the consequences of a tragedy.
The committee also unveiled draft legislation to acquire the site about a miles east of Yarnell where the firefighters died and create a permanent memorial.
- Claims from Yarnell Hill Fire reach $662M
- Feds again tell Gov. Brewer no disaster relief
- Companies donate fire gear to Yarnell
- Prescott to take down informal memorial
- Legislators to discuss responder coverage
- Fire payments for crew covered most costs
- Pendant honors fallen fire crew
- Phoenix store donates $100K for families
- Legislators ask Obama to reconsider fire aid
- Planes called just before firefighter deaths
- Couple gets back wedding ring after fire
- Arrests in robbing of evacuated Yarnell home
- DPS paramedic reported firefighter deaths
- Pat McMahon: Back to business
- Yarnell residents return to burned homes
- McCain honors Hotshots inside US Senate (V)
- Brewer asks Obama to declare emergency
- Joe Biden speaks at Yarnell Hill memorial
- Rob Hunter: Remembering the Hotshots
- SR 89 near site of hotshots' deaths reopens
- Friends, family share stories of Hotshots
- Surviving hotshot reads prayer at service
- Yarnell Post Office reopens after wildfire
- McMahon: Misplaced outrage
- Wyo. Hotshots raise over $8K for AZ families
- Displaced Yarnell residents go home
- Fire crews: Answer to why is someone has to
- McMahon: Blackened tears
- Procession brings home fallen AZ firefighters
- Photo of flags on firemen creates controversy
- McCain: Deadly Ariz. wildfire highlights need
- Burns, breathing issues killed 19 firefighters
- Yarnell Fire destroys 129 structures
- Firefighter built, tried to protect crew
- Prescott holds vigil for fallen hotshot crew
- Candlelight vigil held in Phoenix for fallen
- Final Word: Firefighters' deaths rallying state
- Widow of firefighter shares memories (VID)
- Storms with lightning threaten Yarnell Fire
- Time-lapse footage of the Yarnell wildfire
- Hunter: Leaving everything behind
- Emergency shelters last chance for survival
- Fallen Prescott fire crew members ID'd
- Report: Two fallen firefighters from Calif.
- Firefighter: 'Doing best we can' after deaths
- Reporter: No surprise last-ditch effort failed
- Humane Society deployed to Yarnell Fire
- For hotshots, preparing a way of life
- American flag greets fallen Prescott crew
- Fallen fire crew worked front lines
- VIDEO: Hotshot memorial in Prescott
- AZ leaders tweet sympathy over Yarnell Fire
- Surviving crew member was moving truck
- Celebrities react to those affected in Yarnell
- VIDEO: Procession for fallen firefighters
- Obama: 'Heartbroken' over AZ firefighters
- VIDEO: Prescott hotshot memorial
- Firefighter's group statement on fallen crew