With his widow weeping in the audience, city officials voted Thursday to award full survivor and retirement benefits to the family of one of the part-time Arizona Hotshot firefighters who died fighting the devastating Yarnell Hill Fire almost a year ago.
After a two-day hearing, the retirement board of the city of Prescott voted to award the enhanced benefits to the family of Andrew Ashcraft, who perished last June along with 12 other seasonal — or part-time — members and six full-time members of the elite Granite Mountain Interagency Hotshot Crew in the largest loss of firefighters' lives since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Ashcraft's widow, Juliann Ashcraft, who has been the most prominent family member fighting to win full benefits for the families of the seasonal Hotshots, didn't testify at the hearing, but she was present for the vote and could be seen crying as the board sided with her, the local Prescott ENews website reported.
The 4-1 vote came at the same time that an army of Hotshots from around the West was returning to the area to battle a fire near Slide Rock State Park — less than 100 miles from where their 19 Granite Mountain colleagues died.
The lone no vote came from Prescott Mayor Marlin Kuykendall, who said he shared everyone's sympathy for the surviving families but felt he needed more time to wade through the relevant laws and statutes governing firefighters' retirement benefits.
Another board member, Wade Ward of the Prescott Fire Department, said the question was difficult because "everything that we've gone through and continue to go through is unprecedented."
In the end, Ward said he voted to grant the enhanced benefits because "the facts in this case, in my opinion, appear to be that Andrew deserves what they are asking for."
"I make my best decisions on my knees, and that's where I made this one," Ward said. "I vote yes."