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Prescott takes the cheapskate approach to dead Yarnell firefighters

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Land of the free, home of the brave -- town of the cheapskates? Say it isn't so, Prescott, Ariz.

In June, 19 firefighters from Prescott’s Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew were killed fighting a wildfire near Yarnell, Ariz. And although the fire killed them all equally, the city now says they’re not: Six of the dead men were full-time city employees, and thus their families are entitled to full-time survivors benefits, including healthcare. The other 13, though, were part-timers. The city has a special category for those families: out of luck.

Gee, if only those 13 men had known, maybe they could have run away when the fire approached, leaving their six full-time colleagues -- and the buildings they were protecting -- to burn.

But don’t blame us, city officials say. State law has tied our hands.

This week, though, those officials came up with another reason -- let’s call it the real reason: The city can’t afford to do the right thing.

As my Times colleague Cindy Carcamo writes:

It would cost the city an estimated $51 million over the next 60 years and would mean cuts to vital services to the people of Prescott, city spokesman Peter Wertheim said Thursday in a statement.

If the city were to make a one-time lump-sum payment of $24 million, it would be three times the entire budget of the Prescott Fire Department.

Excuse me, but when exactly did Prescott, Ariz., turn into Bangladesh? Brave young men die doing dangerous work protecting public and private property, and Prescott can’t “afford” to take care of their survivors? If that’s the case, then I’d say Prescott can’t “afford” to send such folks out to fight fires either.

And about that affordability explanation: If you're so inclined, you can visit the city's website and check out its financial position. For 2014, the city says it has about $230 million available; it's budgeted about $173 million for expenditures.  Hmmm. Is it just me, or does it appear the city could cough up a few bucks for some widows and their kids?

Fortunately, the state of Arizona appears ready to step up and do the right thing. Lawmakers plan to revisit the issue when the Legislature reconvenes in January, crafting retroactive legislation to extend full employee benefits to any firefighter who dies on state land.

Now, not everyone -- perhaps not even most -- of the good folks of Prescott are on the wrong side of this issue. Carcamo quotes Dave Michelson, owner of the Palace Restaurant & Saloon, who said he believed all the families should get the benefits. “I think most people feel like I do,” he said. “I know it'll cost the city … but they died in the line of duty to protect all of us.”

There. That’s the America I know. Home of the free and land of the brave -- and of the kind, the generous and the reasonable.

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