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


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