Firefighter Widows File More Claims Relating to Yarnell Wildfire

April 11, 2014

Two Granite Mountain Hotshots’ families are seeking to obtain additional death benefits from a state retirement system for public safety workers, a Prescott official said Tuesday.

City spokesman Pete Wertheim said the widows of Andrew Ashcraft and William Warneke filed claims last month with the city, stating their husbands should be added retroactively to the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System.

Wertheim said a Prescott PSPRS board will hold a hearing May 21 to determine if Roxanne Warneke’s claim holds merit. A hearing for Juliann Ashcraft’s claim has not yet been scheduled, he said.

According to state law, claims involving retirement benefits must occur within 90 days of the matter being brought to a local board’s attention.

Neither firefighter contributed to the retirement fund.

But the claims say both men, who were killed June 30 while fighting the Yarnell Hill Fire, worked the same hours as a full-time worker.

In a letter sent to the city March 17, an attorney representing Ashcraft and her four children said her husband earned a full-time employee salary of $15.03 per hour. The letter also states Ashcraft was listed on a city roster as a permanent crew member.

“Under these circumstances, Andrew was eligible for PSPRS participation and the Ashcraft family is entitled to survivor’s benefits,” the letter said.

Both Ashcraft and Warneke are requesting spouse’s pension, child’s pension for all of their children, health insurance and other benefits.

In all, all but one of 20 hotshot crew members died after they became trapped in the wildfire. Six of them were considered full-time while the others, including Ashcraft and Warneke, were seen as part-time. The families of part-time firefighters received far fewer benefits than those of full-time firefighters.

State lawmakers committed $5 million this week to helping Prescott pay out death benefits for the six full-time firefighters.

Prescott officials in January denied more than 100 damage claims seeking $662 million for property owners and relatives of deceased firefighters.

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