The Denver Post has a story up about the fact that seasonal wildland firefighters, including hotshot crews don’t receive health insurance, and in fact, aren’t even able to buy into federal health insurance plans. Cue the Drums of Moral Outrage, please. The three recent major Colorado wildfires brought the fact to the attention of the authors; the timing is perfect to spotlight the issue, imo, with both increasing numbers and sizes of wildfires, earlier fire seasons, and health care all in the news now.
The reporters mention that hotshots and other firefighters chop line with Pulaskis until their hands blister, breathe smoke and get doused with flame retardant uncomplainingly. I’ll add that they also work many hours of overtime while on fires, and in the case of hotshots, perform their fire-fighting in rugged terrain, often ‘spike out’ at night, meaning sleep on the ground, often subsist on Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), and are out for up to three weeks at a time. Showers, clean Nomex and communication with home are often luxuries to them.
In dire emergencies, the crews often work all night to save us and our houses from the ravages of fire.
Their base pay isn’t that great, but they can do well financially when they’re on fires; overtime and hazard pay boost their wages.
Firefighting is dangerous, dirty work; for Hotshots even a notch more so. They train like Navy Seals, at least in the terra firma portions of the training. They lug heavy packs of water, fuel, saws, etc. up and down steep terrain, sometimes sustaining injuries that keep them from firefighting for life; perhaps more often accruing repetitive stress injuries that age them faster than the average bear, which is true for all categories of crews. Long-term effects of exposure to smoke and toxic chemicals are other possibilities.
Shorter: Firefighters risk their lives for us.