Entries in Firefighters (8)


Obama Admin. Extends Health Coverage to Federal Firefighters

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The Obama administration is extending health insurance to seasonal firefighters employed by the U.S. government, following a public outcry over the lack of affordable coverage for such workers.

“Starting today, the brave men and women of our nation's federal firefighting forces, as well as their families, will have access to the health coverage they deserve. Their heroism in battling the deadly fires that have impacted states across the country this summer inspires us all,” the president said Tuesday in a written statement. “Each day, these Americans put themselves in grave danger to save the lives of people they never met, which is why I directed my administration to ensure that our nation’s firefighters can count on the care and protection they need.”  

Temporary firefighters working on wildfires across the country and their families will now have access to the same health insurance afforded to full time federal employees, the Office of Personnel Management announced.

The president directed his administration to extend coverage shortly after he toured the damage caused by the Colorado wildfires last month.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Two Dead in Firefighting Air Tanker Crash in Utah

iStockphoto/Thinkstock (file photo)(CEDAR CITY, Utah) -- Two people were killed on Sunday when their firefighting air tanker crashed while battling a 5,000-acre blaze along the Nevada-Utah border, a National Transportation Safety Board official told ABC News.

The plane went down shortly before 1 p.m. in the Hamblin Valley, roughly two hours west of Cedar City, Utah, said Chris Hanefeld, a fire information officer with the Bureau of Land Management.  Hanefeld said the plane had been dropping fire retardant.

The two victims have not been identified.

Hanefeld said the air tanker that crashed is a P-2V, owned by Neptune Aviation Services of Missoula, Mont.  The P-2 was originally developed for the Navy in the 1940s, but the age of the aircraft that went down is not known.

The tanker was working the White Rock fire that started Friday in Lincoln County, Nev., about 25 miles north of Caliente.  High winds pushed the flames across the border into Utah.  Officials believe the fire was sparked by a lightning strike.  No structures are threatened.

While the cause of Sunday's accident is unknown, the age and shrinking size of the nation’s fleet of firefighting air tankers has been the subject of renewed concern among lawmakers in fire-prone states.  Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., this week criticized the U.S. Forest Service for not moving faster to modernize the agency’s contracted fleet of large air tankers.

Forest Service chief Tom Tidwell told ABC News this week the agency is working to modernize the fleet.

“I would tell the public that with the combination of the large air tankers along with the helicopters and firefighters is that we are ready and we are prepared to deal with this coming fire season,” Tidwell said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Georgia County Considers Using Inmates as Firefighters

Photodisc/Thinkstock(WOODBINE, Ga.) -- A Georgia county looking to save some money is considering using inmates from a local prison to fill out its fire department ranks rather than hiring trained firefighters.

Camden County Administrator Steve Howard told ABC News Tuesday that the Board of Commissioners is looking at a proposal that would use inmates from a nearby prison for firefighting, though he noted that no official proposal had been made nor any vote taken.

The plan, according to the Florida Times Union, would include putting two inmates in each of three existing fire houses,  which could allegedly help save the town $500,000 in fire insurance costs by boosting the town’s fire coverage.  Howard declined to discuss the specifics of the proposal with ABC News.

Under the model used by neighboring Sumter County, the inmates would not be guarded by prison staff while at the firehouse, but instead would be overseen by fire department supervisors who would receive “correctional training.”

The inmates chosen to be part of the program would be low-level criminals, according to the report, with convictions for robbery, theft, or drug charges.  They will be available during all shifts to help fight fires, unlike paid firefighters, who are given time off after working 24-hour shifts, the report said.

As a result, the county could save on the typical costs of about $6,000 to train a firefighter, $2,000 to outfit him, and about $40,000 to pay his salary and benefits.  Camden County’s public safety director said it would cost $10,000 to $15,000 to feed and outfit each inmate, install security measures such as surveillance systems, and provide correctional training for traditional firefighters, the newspaper reported.

The inmates in question have professed support of the plan, according to one commissioner.

“I’ve been told these inmates are very enthusiastic about being a firefighter,” Commissioner Jimmy Starline told the paper.  “It’s an opportunity to break that cycle.  This is not like a chain gang.  Life at a fire station could be a whole lot more pleasant than life in jail.”

But the firefighters are not as happy.  Stuart Sullivan objected to the commission’s plan, telling them it would tarnish the department.

“If you vote to bring these inmates into our working environment, you jeopardize not only the employees’ well-being, but the safety of our citizens,” he said.

Mark Treglio, a spokesman for the National Association of Firefighters, said the proposal could compromise the safety of firefighters, the trust between the department and the community it serves, and the privacy and safety of homeowners.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Mandatory Evacuations Issued for Californian Wildfire

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images(HESPERIA, Calif.) -- Mandatory evacuations were in effect for the Cajon Pass between Los Angeles and Las Vegas after a wind-fueled brush fire—dubbed “Hill Fire”—threatened homes after it started burning Friday afternoon.

The fire charred over 1,148 acres and was 30 percent contained by Saturday, according to ABC News Los Angeles affiliate KABC-TV.

Although no flames were visible Saturday morning, firefighters reported that the fire remained a concern as increasing winds and rising temperatures were forecasted for Saturday.

While some residents began returning to their homes as winds tapered off Friday night, residents south of Mesquite Street, east of Baldy Mesa Avenue, west of Oak Hills Road and north of Cajon Pass on Interstate 15 were still under mandatory evacuation orders Saturday.

Nearly a dozen aircrafts, including a DC-10 jumbo jet tanker, and an estimated 900 firefighters were called in to help extinguish the flames.

A firefighter was reported injured as well as some local motorists who were treated for smoke inhalation.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


A Rhode Island City Turns to Pensioners to Avoid Bankruptcy

Comstock/Thinkstock(CENTRAL FALLS, R.I.) -- Central Falls, R.I.'s motto is "city with a bright future," but now its tomorrows are not only bleak, they could be nonexistent.

The densely packed community of 19,000, comprising an area a little larger than a square mile, faces bankruptcy and is calling on its bravest and finest for help.

The city's 141 retired firefighters and police officers were asked at a meeting Tuesday night to voluntarily give up as much as half of their pensions. It's called the "big ask," and with the library and community center already shut down, the city is running out of options to fix its dire financial prospects.

"It came as a shock yesterday [Tuesday] when it was presented to the pensioners," said William Zachary Malinowski, who has reported for the Providence Journal for 26 years. "If they don't give up a good chunk, they may end up with nothing."

The city faces $80 million in unfunded pensions and benefit programs, and a $5 million to $6 million deficit that shows no sign of decreasing in the coming years.

Under the proposed pension plan, anyone who retired at age 55 after 30 years on the job would see their pension cut in half from about $40,000 to about $20,000 a year.

Col. Joseph Moran served 27 years on the police force, contributing seven percent of his salary each month. Now retired, he stands to lose $1,000 a month. Making matters worse, workers here didn't participate in Social Security, so there are no other benefits to fall back on.

If retirees refuse the "big ask," Central Falls will likely have to declare bankruptcy, jeopardizing the entire pension system.

"I would advise a haircut looks better than a beheading," said a state-appointed receiver, Robert G. Flanders Jr.

Flanders would like a decision from the pensioners in the next seven days, Malinowski told ABC News.

"I could be wrong, but I don't see them taking it," Malinowski said. "I think this ends in bankruptcy."

Central Falls is not the first city to run out of the money needed to pay its retirees. In 2009, Prichard, Ala., stopped sending out pension checks to its 150 retired workers.

With the economy still sputtering and city budgets collapsing, similar "big asks" and broken promises could be coming to more towns.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama Lays Wreath at Ground Zero

JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- In a solemn and virtually silent ceremony, President Obama laid a wreath at Ground Zero on Thursday, moments after telling a New York City firehouse that the death of terror mastermind Osama bin Laden showed the world "when we say, 'We never forget,' we mean what we say."

The president helped place the wreath in front of the Survivor Tree, a pear tree rescued from the burning wreckage of the World Trade Center and replanted at the site in December 2010.

After laying the wreath, the president met with survivors and victims' families.

The silence at Ground Zero contrasted sharply with the warm applause from the men of Engine 54 and Ladder 4, the president's first stop in New York City. The president visited the Manhattan firehouse, dubbed "The Pride of Midtown," as part of his trip to Ground Zero, four days after Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan. The firehouse at 48th Street and Eighth Avenue lost 15 men when the twin towers collapsed.

"The president believes it's appropriate and fitting to travel to New York this week in the wake of the successful mission to bring Osama bin Laden to justice, to recognize the terrible loss that New York suffered on 9/11 and to acknowledge the burden that the families of the victims, the loved ones of the victims have been carrying with them since 9/11, almost 10 years," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

Obama had invited former president George W. Bush to join him at Ground Zero where Bush, speaking through a bull horn atop the rubble of the World Trade Center, had vowed to track down those who knocked down the skyscrapers. Bush, however, declined the invitation.

This year will mark the tenth anniversary of the attacks.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Two Chicago Firefighters Killed, At Least 15 Injured after Building Collapse

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Two Chicago firefighters were killed and more than a dozen injured Wednesday after they became trapped in a building while battling a warehouse blaze.

Rescuers dug frantically to free the two, who were among at least four firefighters trapped inside the building. At least 15 other firefighters were hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office confirmed the deaths just before 11 a.m. EST.

"Without warning the roof collapsed trapping four firefighters," Chicago Fire Commissioner Robert Huff said at a press conference. "Despite our best efforts at the scene and in the hospitals, two firefighters succumbed to their injuries."

Hoff identified the dead firemen as Edward Stringer and Cory Ankum. Stringer was a 12 year veteran firefighter.

Ankum, a 38-year-old father of three, was a three year veteran of the Chicago police force when he switched careers and joined the fire department 16 months ago. His youngest child is just one year old.

"Every firefighter that was there did the best they could do to save their brothers, our major concern right now is their families," Hoff said.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Tennessee Family's Home Burns to the Ground as Firefighters Stand and Watch

Photo Courtesy -- Getty Images(SOUTH FULTON, Tenn.) -- A Tennessee family's failure to pay a $75 fee stopped firefighters from responding immediately last week as a home burned to the ground.

When firefighters did finally arrive, they stood watching as flames engulfed Gene Cranick's Obion County home.  They refused to help because Cranick had not paid an annual "pay to spray" subscription fee.

"I just forgot to pay my $75," homeowner Gene Cranick said.  "I did it last year, the year before. ... It slipped my mind."

The city of South Fulton charges that $75 fire protection fee to rural residents who live outside the city limits. When a household has not paid the fee, firefighters are required by law to not respond.

"We have to follow the rules and the ordinances set forth to us, and that's exactly what we do," said Jeff Vowell, South Fulton city manager.

In fact, in Cranick's case, officials said that fire trucks didn't even show up until a neighbor who did pay the subscription fee called 911 to protect his home from the growing fire.

It's infuriating to Cranick, who is now left to clean up the charred remains of decades' worth of family heirlooms and other belongings.

"My neighbor called [the fire department], saying whatever it takes, we want them to put it out, we'll pay $500," said Cranick.  "They told us, 'It's too late.'"

South Fulton has had the "pay to spray" policy in place for more than 20 years, and the fees -- which often cover police services, too -- are fairly common in rural areas.  Without implementing complex tax arrangements to cover cash-strapped city budgets, there are simply few other options.

"If the city starts fighting fires in the homes of people outside the city who don't pay, why would anyone pay?" said Jacqueline Byers with the National Association of Counties.

Still, it was small comfort to the Cranick family.  Gene Cranick's son, Tim Cranick, was reportedly so upset by the fire department's actions that he went to the station and assaulted the fire chief.  The younger Cranick was arrested and released on $5,000 bond, charged with aggravated assault.

"I don't know that there is a good situation when things like this happen," said Vowell.  "It's regrettable. Tough for everyone involved."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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