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Benefits granted to fire crews' families

Schwarzenegger cites the five Forest Service firefighters who died in a Riverside County blaze last year as he approves wider health coverage.

September 30, 2007|Patrick McGreevy | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO -- Moved by the deaths of five U.S. Forest Service firefighters in the Esperanza fire in Riverside County last year, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation Saturday extending health benefits to the families of federal crew members killed while protecting California.

Schwarzenegger signed the bill in conjunction with an annual ceremony at State Capitol Park in Sacramento to honor the memory of California firefighters who have died in the line of duty.

"We must do everything we can to help families deal with the devastation and loss of a loved one who courageously fought in the line of duty," Schwarzenegger said.

The bill provides health benefit coverage to survivors of fallen federal firefighters who were California residents and whose regular duty assignments were to perform firefighting services in California.

Previous law provides benefits to survivors of police officers and firefighters working for California agencies but omits protection for those on the permanent federal payroll, according to Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D-La CaƱada Flintridge).

He noted that two of the five men who died fighting the Esperanza fire were permanent career civilian federal firefighters.

"The survivors of these men will not receive the benefits that are available to other Californians who have died in the line of similar duty," Portantino said of the situation before his bill was signed.

"In recent years there have been approximately 500 permanent civilian federal firefighters in California. In addition to the men who perished in the Esperanza fire, 14 federal firefighters have died in the line of duty in California in the last five years."

The legislation was supported by Steve Westerman, president of the International Assn. of Fire Chiefs.

"These are men and women who are putting their lives on the line, and anything that would extend benefits to their families would be appreciated," Westerman said.

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patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com

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