Obama directive offers wildland firefighters health insurance

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— President Barack Obama has directed federal officials to offer seasonal firefighters the option of purchasing federal health insurance coverage, White House officials told The Denver Post on Tuesday.

On a a recent trip to Colorado Springs, the president apparently was moved by the firefighters he met, senior administration officials said in an interview.

When he returned to Washington, he told his Cabinet that he wanted to “find a solution” for the hundreds of workers toiling in dangerous conditions without the option to buy in to federal insurance.

In May, Aaron Alpe, a seasonal wildland firefighter from Steamboat Springs, helped launch an online petition asking the federal government to provide seasonal wildland firefighters with health insurance benefits. The petition has garnered more than 120,000 signatures.

Alpe spent the past couple of weeks traveling across the state doing interviews with several media outlets that helped bring attention to the lack of health insurance for seasonal firefighters.

“I didn’t think it was going to happen this fast,” Alpe said Tuesday about Obama’s announcement. “I’m speechless. I just cannot believe it. It could have been pushed under the carpet.”

Alpe told the Steamboat Today last month that firefighting takes a tremendous toll on his body each year and that he sometimes had to pay out of pocket in the winter to be treated for illnesses he attributes to the dangerous job.

The Hayden High School graduate sat out this fire season to join the campaign to secure the health insurance benefits and to earn his commercial pilot’s license.

He said Obama’s announcement “restored his faith in the U.S. Forest Service and the federal government” and likely will allow him to be covered with health insurance himself if he decides to return to his seasonal firefighting status next year.

Read the full story on The Denver Post's website.

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