Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Step Back for Reflection

I actually have this chair in my classroom
and used to wear jerseys on a weekly basis,
pretty good capturing of me.
I am a huge proponent for righting the injustices of the world.  I keep toiletries and non-perishables in the trunk of my car so I can help those most forgotten by our society whenever the opportunity presents itself.  I use my blog as a platform.  Even though it reaches a limited audience, it keeps the conversation going.  I am working to raise our kids to look out for those who are treated unjustly.  I have no problems being the big mouth frog for voices that no one cares to listen to.  That is just who I am. 

And sometimes that gets me in trouble.  Sometimes I speak too soon.  Sometimes I look at the whole picture, but I don't actually take it all in.

And that was almost the case yesterday.  I have a whole blog post written, ready for me to publish.  But then I started digging and researching - as I have learned to do as my age continues on.  I have learned that an educated piece may not be the piece that everyone gets all riled up about, but it is the one that needs to be put out there.  

And emotions need to be curbed, sometimes.  

It is amazing how much you learn as the years march on, isn't it?

All of this was prompted by a Twitter conversation with a WFFW that I have been friends with in the cyber world for quite some time.  She (and all other wives of wildland firefighters) live a life that me, a FT structure firefighter's wife, can't really wrap my head around.  As we were chatting more and more did not make sense to me.  And it seemed like paperwork mumbo jumbo BS to me.  So, I took to my sharp tongued keyboard and put out this piece (that is actually really good, if I do say so myself :D ) and was ready to take all the shots that would be coming my way.

And then I did, what every educated writer does, I set it aside and did some more research.  Sounds backwards, perhaps, but I seem to be my best writing while the ideas are swirling around in there.  Trust me, as damaged as my brain is, stuff gets lost in the holes of that Swiss cheese!  

Then I realized, perhaps there is a more devastating tale.  Perhaps it is more of a story that all of the ducks were not in a row.  

I first understood that WFFF did not receive PSOB benefits unless their title that of FIREFIGHTER.  I was under the impression that the only reason the GMHS received benefits was because of their ties to the city of Prescott FD.  But that just did not make sense to me.  I get  that my FF is a career FF and things are different, but to totally leave families who gave their FFs up EVERY SUMMER, to leave them out in the cold, on their own seemed heartless.  It didn't make sense.  I couldn't wrap my head around it, so I started poking around more.  I started asking questions of people whose opinions I have come to trust.  I started reading the bills and the heart wrenching stories and I realized that there was so much more to this story.  I found that all firefighters employed or deployed by a government agency qualifies for PSOB benefits.  Private entities have their own set of rules. 

Instead of this tirade I was planning, what I actually discovered was a more of a universal moral to this heartbreaking tale.   

We, as spouses of firefighters, need to make sure ALL of our ducks are in a row - certain that there are no technicalities to be surprised by if we fins ourselves in these shoes.  My rational brain totally understands that seasonal/PT employees are different than FT employees.  My emotional psyche thinks it sucks that promises were not fulfilled and working 40 hour work weeks for 51 out of 52 weeks of the year is still classified as seasonal/PT employment.  I feel the pain of Juliann Ashcraft, as much as I can with my husband still coming home to me.  And, truth be told, I would probably be on the same crusade, were I walking in her shoes.  But if her husband's contract that was not amended, there may be some tied hands in this discussion.  If they were waiting for approval from a board or commission, clearly it would have come too late.  If he was promised that to keep him quiet without ever actually planning to fulfill that promise, that is even more heart wrenching.  I can't begin to know.  Perhaps we will never know for sure.  His officers perished with him.  Everything we have is educated conjecture.  

Speaker Andy Tobin
photo by Gage Skidmore
Do I think that he should be classified as FT posthumously, yes.  I think it would be what is right. He was working full time hours, at full time pay for a year.  To me, that defines full time.  But those contracts...<sigh>. Do I think that the bureaucracy will actually step up and reclassify him?  No, I really don't.  Hopefully I will be pleasantly surprised and his family will be provided for the healthcare they so desperately deserve.  But again, I am on the outside looking in. I know that Andy Tobin, Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives is drafting legislation to provide FT benefits to any seasonal/part time worker that dies on state lands.  I am trying to put pieces of this puzzle together, rather blindly, but that sounds like a step in the right direction.  Especially pleasing if it applies retroactively to the 19 GMHS.

I see this as an opportunity for all of us.  WE need to make sure that our WFFs are taken care of.  We need to make sure that people are aware of Wildland Firefighters Protection Act - HR 2858. We need to let Andy Tobin know he doing what is right. We need to make sure that the are respected for the service they are providing.  We need to make sure that the WFFs and their families know what the risks are and what they are entitled to, to be sure the unspeakable discussion is actually discussed.  We need to continue to talk to ALL of our FFs about how we as their families will be taken care of if one day there is that dread knock on the door. We as wives, need to talk to our FFs and know what the plan of attack would be.  And we need to support the families of our fallen firefighters - including all 19 of the Granite Mountain Hotshots and  Brendan McDonough.  We cannot let these families feel that they or their FF are forgotten - at any time. 

But all of this requires us to be uncomfortable.  And we need to embrace that discomfort and have these talks - with our firefighters, with their departments and with Congress.  Make your voice heard and hear the voices of our firefighters.  Perhaps, however, you should take a step back and take a look a the big picture.  What do you want to accomplish? What is the best route to achieve that goal?  Sometimes it is just jumping in, sometimes it is doing your research, sometimes...well, you'll know what is when you see it. 

Have the talk, support your fellow FFWs when they need it and love that firefighter of yours.
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