In June, a resident of Big Sandy, Mont. lost his life when his plane crashed while fighting fires in Utah. He was caring and compassionate and was always reaching out to others in need. His first love, after his family, was flying, and he always felt at home when in the air. He was a gifted pilot with over 21,000 hours of flight time. In addition to operating his own flying service complete with aerial application and contract piloting, he was an accomplished flight instructor and an FAA designated examiner. His accident was a huge shock to the family, and his loss has left a tremendous void in our lives.
Currently, airtanker pilots are employed by aerial firefighting contractors; pilots are not employed directly by the government agencies involved in wildland fire management. Because of their independent contractor status, aerial firefighters aren't eligible to receive the Public Service Officer Benefit that is made available to other firefighters. Sadly, life insurance policies for pilots are extremely costly, leaving families a huge financial burden as well as tremendous grief.
Congress currently has legislation in committees that address this issue. Bills HR977 and S989 would amend the PSOB to extend death and disability benefits to these unsung heroes and their families. Presently, these bills are lacking sponsors and have been stalled in committees since May 2003. Representatives Cannon and Bishop have signed on as cosponsors of the bill. Representative Matheson and Senators Hatch and Bennett are still undecided. Senator Hatch currently chairs the Judiciary committee where S989 has been held up since May 2003. We urge you to ask your congressmen to cosponsor this bill.
Although passage of these bills won't bring him back, it would recognize tanker pilots for the invaluable work they do as public safety officers. These pilots know the risks, but they still fly their planes to protect our homes and resources. Don't you think it's time we protect them too?