As Wildfires Rage Out West, One Firefighter’s Crusade for Health Benefits Becomes a Viral Sensation

Friday, June 15, 2012

Contact: Cory Bythrow, Communications Director

Phone: (202) 216-4458


Washington, D.C. – It is said that one must never doubt that a small group of committed individuals can change the world. Too often however, the phrase rings as a hollow platitude. But this week one federal firefighter, fed up with his coworkers’ lack of health care, threw conventional wisdom out the window, sparking a viral sensation in the process.


His name is John Lauer, and he is a seasonal wildland firefighter with the U.S. Forest Service. John and thousands of other firefighters join the federal employment roles for six months each year to battle wildfires throughout the country. Often battling fires spanning thousands of acres in rugged, remote areas, these men and women brave harrowing conditions to protect homes, businesses, and often entire communities from destruction.  Their typical shift: 16 hours on the fire line. Despite this, you will never hear John complain about his job – in fact he couldn’t be more proud of it.


There is, however, one element of the job that has him and many others shaking their heads. Despite the danger that they face every fire season, their employer, the federal government, does not allow them to participate in its health insurance program. According to federal regulations, they are considered temporary seasonal employees and are therefore not eligible to buy into the federal insurance program. For a job where fatalities are common and serious injury is a near-daily occurrence, the lack of insurance is a serious issue for many. Until recently, however, John had tolerated the unfair practice simply because he knew the just must be done. But the premature birth of his close friend and coworker’s son, and the resulting $70,000 in medical bills, spurred him to action.


“I couldn’t stand by quietly anymore and watch my godson’s parents suffer without health insurance,” said Lauer, who is currently fighting a wildfire in Colorado. “Stories like this are a dime a dozen for seasonal firefighters. These are some of the bravest, most dedicated people I have ever met. They come back year after year and put their lives on the line to protect their communities and serve their country. They deserve insurance. That’s why I started the petition.”


On his own volition, John started a petition on asking friends, family, and coworkers to join his cause. After swiftly adding several hundred signatures, the petition then went viral across the web, gaining an additional 100,000 signatures in the next 24 hours. Along with his union, the National Federation of Federal Employees (NFFE), John has been taking any spare time he has between fires to spread the word and forward his cause.


“It’s been a surreal experience to see our cause take off like this,” said Lauer. “It started as a small thing between me and my buddies on the fire line, but now it’s reaching people across the country. I and everyone I work with are so grateful for peoples’ support. A good cause is always worth fighting for. I’m thrilled to see that so many others agree.”


NFFE’s Temporary Employee Issue Paper: ttp://



***This release has been updated to reflect an increase in petition signatures.


TOM   06/17/12 9:48 am
When you sign on as a temporary employee you know that there are no health benefits with the job, so it is frustrating to hear about this. In addition to that, it is sad to see the hero mentality of wildland firefighters and that they truly believe that they are the only seasonal employees that should get benefits.

georover   06/17/12 12:12 am
John Lauer, You should devote your energy to getting the health providers to negotiate the $70,000 in charges. They will lower the fees, because they know these charges are unfair. Believe me, Congress is in no mood to give additional benefits to federal workers. They are in the "take-away" mode. Thanks for trying, but it ain't gonna happen.

georover   06/16/12 11:42 pm
Yes, the heroic firefighters deserve rewards. And they get them. That's the reason they keep coming back, even if the hire is maxed at 1039 hours. Why 1039 hours? One hour short of a full half year. So...OPM says, of course no benefits; you don't work even six months! So...someone comes out with a $70k medical bill. Well, hundreds more Americans for every one firefighter is in the same boat. Are the firefighters fighting for the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare)? How many firefighters oppose the universal mandate? Does Mr. Lauer carry health insurance? Does his friend? It's expensive, but not to have it is to toss the dice. So...the real villain is not the government...but the medical establishment that would charge the insurance company only $25k for the same procedures. Would I sign this petition? No. Would I sign one that includes all Federal temps? Maybe. Most of all...let's get universal health care for all Americans. If Mexico can do it, so can we. Okay, lacking though it is, Obamacare will do for now.

Dave   06/16/12 5:19 am
Which gimme program are you complaining about the one where the employee is allowed to purchase insurance to protect their families or the one where the employee has no insurance and we all pay for their health care through our health insurance and taxes. I just want make sure I know which warped sense of "you are on your own" reality we are working with here.

Mike   06/15/12 9:08 pm
Cody , permanents do pay for med insurance . And so will the temps if allowed to sign up for it !

cody   06/15/12 7:27 pm
Is this a joke? You can't complain about budget cuts and in the next breath ask for more spending. I'm sorry but if you want the benefits either you should've become a permanent or get another job. If anyone thinks this is financially smart look no further than to calfire of the 20% reduction in workforce after the elections. If you get hurt at work that's what state comp is for. This gimmie gimmie, I deserve it all crap has to stop or we are going to end up like Europe.

Michael T. Wells   06/15/12 7:21 pm
I completely agree ! I will foward this and the petition to all that I know! Keep Pushing...

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