In October 2013, we wrote about an 8,300-acre wildfire that killed 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots in central Arizona on June 30. Ever since then, the families of the elite firefighting crew (one of 110 Hotshot crews in the country) have been waiting to see if the city that employed the men would help compensate the relatives for their losses. On January 21, Prescott, Arizona, gave its answer: No. On all counts.
The family members – who filed claims, along with residents who lost their homes – were seeking more than $300 million in damages, as well as changes to protocol and funding to train new, young wildland firefighters to work the volatile region, which has suffered through some 2,700 fires across 1.6 million acres in the past five years).
The city Prescott is adamant that it did nothing wrong and has no obligation to pay the families. But as we detailed in a follow-up story, Prescott cut corners. To save money, it classified most of the Hotshots (who often worked 100-hour weeks) as "temporary" or "seasonal," denying them benefits (including life insurance). This is all the city's prerogative. In order to meet federal guidelines for Hotshot crews, however, one of these seasonal employees was listed on the annual certification checklist as full-time.
After the claims were filed, attorneys for Prescott said it "is not liable to claimants because it didn't act intentionally, recklessly, or negligently."
Legally, the city may ultimately be proved right. But that's little solace for the 10 wives, three fiancés, and 16 children without security or steady income. And without the fathers, husbands, and partners who provided it.