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Begich holds Senate wildfire hearing

By KTVA CBS 11 News 4:53 PM June 5, 2014

Sen. Mark Begich says the number and cost of fighting wildfires is increasing, and the men and women who put their lives on the line to put them out aren’t being treated fairly.

It’s a problem the Democrat says needs to be fixed.

In the weeks after the Funny River fire began burning May 19, the Division of Forestry says more than 800 firefighters from Alaska, Canada and the Lower 48 made their way to the Kenai Peninsula to help extinguish the flames. Officials say the fire is bigger than the city of Chicago and still just 60 percent contained. Thursday, Begich held a hearing in Washington D.C. where first responders told him about the challenges they face on the front lines.

They told Begich that federal firefighters do not enjoy the same flexibility that local firefighters do; mentioning problems like the inability to trade shifts and get time off.

“This problem needs to be fixed. Treating firefighters well is the moral thing to do and it’s also fiscally responsible,” Begich said. “The bravery and skills they earned in the field are even more important to retain as long as possible.”

Begich introduced the Federal Firefighter Flexibility and Fairness Act in the U.S. Senate. He said it restores more than $10 million in cuts.

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