Hotshots' families may get full-time benefits under draft bill

(CBS News) Help may be on the way for the families of the 19 Hotshot firefighters killed in Arizona in June. Many of them feared they would be left with nothing after the tragedy because of a city policy.

On Wednesday, surviving family members received some good news that Arizona state legislators were drafting a proposal that would provide full-time-employee benefits to all members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots.

In an interview published the same day, the lone survivor of the tragedy spoke out about the events that led to the deaths of his close friends.

When the Yarnell fire scorched more than 8,000 acres of Arizona wilderness, it claimed the lives of 19 members of the Granite Mountain Hotshots. At the time, their families were assured they would be taken care of.

But more than a month after the tragedy, one of the widows says the City of Prescott is not keeping that promise. Juliann Ashcraft's husband, Andrew, was 29 years old. She's left behind to raise four small children. The Ashcrafts are one of 13 families denied lifetime benefits by the City of Prescott because their Hotshots were considered seasonal employees.

Juliann Ashcraft said in a recent press conference, "It is a terrible tragedy, and the bigger tragedy is in the fact that the people that can make it right aren't making it right. ... He worked full-time hours. He had a full-time responsibility. He had a full-time salary. There is no way that I can fathom how the city is justifying him as seasonal or part-time."

Arizona lawmakers announced a draft bill that would grant full-time state employee benefits to any first responder who dies on state lands. The bill is retroactive to June 30, meaning the new rules would apply to the fallen Hotshots and their families.

Among Ashcraft's supporters is 21-year-old Brendan McDonough - the only Hotshot to survive the deadly blaze. In an interview with the Daily Courier in Prescott, McDonough said, "Please support these families."

Watch Granite Mountain Hotshot Brendan McDonough's full interview on the Daily Courier site.

He also described, for the first time, the final moments that led to the deaths of his 19 friends. He was their lookout on that fateful day. He said, "As I looked back to see how they're doing, I turned around and I could already see the wind had shifted."

He knew his friends were trapped when he heard they were deploying their fire shelters. He said, "That was the last time I heard my superintendent's voice. I was crushed, mentally and emotionally."

Five weeks after the fire, McDonough and the families left behind are hopeful the State of Arizona will follow through with its promise to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Juliann Ashcraft said, "I want a resolve for all 19 families, and on the state level if Speaker (Andy) Tobin and Sen. (Jeff) Flake are working together on making that right, bless them."

If the State of Arizona does end up awarding lifetime benefits to seasonal first responders, it raises the question of how this might affect communities in other areas that also employ part-time and seasonal first responders.

Watch Carter Evans' full report above.