PRESCOTT, Ariz. — In the days after a wildfire killed 19 members of an elite firefighting team, the Arizona city where they were based banded together in a series of moving public memorials and tributes, overwhelmingly united in its support of the men and their families.
That unity has faded since residents learned Prescott is not paying full-time benefits to all of the families of the firefighters who died on June 30.
Now, leaders of a city nicknamed ‘‘Everybody’s Hometown’’ are receiving both vicious e-mails and ones commending them for not letting emotion get in the way. Grieving widows have lashed out at city leaders in public meetings, news conferences, and national TV appearances.
‘‘I was really proud to live in Prescott because you saw people coming together and now it’s just embarrassing,’’ resident Julie Abel said.
The source of the dispute is the fact that 13 of the firefighters were classified as temporary employees and not entitled to full survivors’ benefits. As a result, they receive smaller death benefits than the families of the six firefighters classified as full time.
The wife of firefighter Andrew Ashcraft, who was killed, brought attention to the issue by making public pleas to city officials, saying her husband worked full-time hours and deserved the more lucrative benefits.