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Attorney: Prescott may not be able to afford new hotshot crew

PHOENIX — The Granite Mountain Hotshot crew that was nearly wiped out by the Yarnell Hill wildfire may not be reformed because the city is concerned about its insurance premiums, the city’s attorney said Thursday.

Prescott Attorney Jon Paladini said the loss of the hotshots may raise the city’s insurance premiums, making it fiscally impossible for the city to reform the crew.

“Is our insurer going to be willing to take that risk,” he said on News/Talk 92.3 KTAR’s Mac & Gaydos.

Paladini said that the city is not sure if the city will face raised premiums as the Granite Mountain Hotshots were the only municipally-funded crew in the nation, making the city’s situation unique.

The city, by law, is required to carry either worker’s compensation insurance or be self-insured.

In response to questions as to why the city can’t afford to posthumously give all the firefighters benefits equivalent to those of full-time employees, Paladini said a city like Prescott — which has an annual budget of about $30 million — simply can’t pay out millions of unanticipated dollars.

“A city the size of Prescott, being relatively small, is no where near capable of absorbing risk on the level of, say, the state of California, the state of Arizona or the federal government.”

Paladini said the crew was constructed in the same manner many other crews are: a few full-time employees surrounded by seasonal or part-time employees. This format helps to fund more hotshot crews.

“The practical reality is that if all hotshot teams were all permanent, full-time, benefited employees, even at the federal level, you’d probably have half the number of teams out there,” he said.

If the city decides against reforming its hotshot crew, there are options. The city could bring in a less elite team, a crew geared towards preventing fires rather than fighting them or the state or federal government could station a crew in Prescott.

While Paladini said the city can’t afford to grant the families full-time benefits, it would likely be open to the state or federal government stepping in to help.

“If there’s a way for the state legislature to come in, if there’s a way the federal government to come in and help out these folks and it doesn’t come back to a direct cost to the citizens in the community of Prescott, I would suggest that our council members, our elected officials would support something like that.”

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