Prescott (AZ) Won’t Appeal Ruling on Firefighter Benefits

The Prescott City Council has voted against appealing a retirement board’s decision to grant public-safety survivor benefits to families of three firefighters killed in the 2013 Yarnell Hill Fire, reports The Associated Press.

City officials had contested the eligibility of the three firefighters’ families to receive the benefits, but the City Council’s votes Tuesday end that fight, The Daily Courier in Prescott reported.

The Prescott Board of the Public Safety Retirement System voted unanimously in February to award survivor benefits to families of Granite Mountain Hotshot firefighters Sean Misner and Billy Warneke.

The board previously awarded benefits to Andrew Ashcraft, and a Yavapai County Superior Court judge in January ruled against the city and in favor of Ashcraft’s family.

Ashcraft, Warneke and Misner were among 19 firefighters who died June 30, 2013, when the wildfire swept over the Prescott Fire Department crew’s position in a brush-choked canyon.

In its votes Tuesday, the council decided against appealing the board’s decisions regarding Warneke and Misner to Superior Court, and against appealing the judge’s ruling on Ashcraft to the state Court of Appeals.

Widow Juliann Ashcraft said she was “grateful to the council for voting with their conscience as opposed to whatever bureaucracy that was happening behind the scenes.”

Patrick McGroder, an attorney for the firefighters’ families, had argued that the city had enrolled them in the wrong retirement system.

McGroder told the council Tuesday, “My clients, my widows and the six kids – they want finality.”

Councilman Greg Lazzell, who voted against the 2014 motion to appeal the Ashcraft decision to Superior Court, again agreed with the families, maintaining that Ashcraft, Misner and Warneke died while carrying out the duties of Hotshots.

“I still have to sleep at night,” he said.

Councilwoman Jean Wilcox cast dissenting votes, saying neither the judge nor the local board had answered all questions on eligibility and local authority.

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