Assembly, Senate pass legislation to assist volunteer firefighters battling cancer

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 June 2017 at 9:53 am

Municipal group opposes because state not funding effort

File photos by Tom Rivers: Carlton and Barre firefighters work to put out a fire on Oct. 11, 2014 on Park Avenue in Carlton when about two dozen hay bales caught on fire.

The State Senate and Assembly have both passed legislation increasing the disability benefits available to volunteer firefighters to cover cancer.

Fire districts, departments or fire companies would be required to offer cancer disability benefit insurance programs to all volunteer firefighters who are eligible.

“The State Assembly and the State Senate have now passed legislation that grants presumptive cancer coverage to volunteers, something that is sorely needed as rates of firefighter cancer continue to rise,” Ken Pienkowski, president of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York. “We now call upon Governor Andrew Cuomo to sign this bill into law without delay, and ensure that New York’s volunteer firefighters have the protections that 21st century firefighting requires.”

The New York Conference of Mayors and Municipal Officials is opposing the legislation because the state is providing funds for the cancer benefits, instead requiring the costs be picked up by local taxpayers.

“Another example of State mandating a local program but not paying for it,” NYCOM said in a tweet on Wednesday. “If this coverage is right thing to do, so is State paying for it.”

State legislators say a series of studies show an increased rate of cancer to firefighters, especially interior firefighters who are often exposed to carcinogens from the burning of everyday products that are engulfed in a fire.

“The session ends soon, and it would be tragic for New York to go another year without protecting its courageous volunteer firefighters against the dangers they face, day in and day out without pay or compensation,” Pienkowski said in a statement. “These men and women volunteered to fight fires, serve their communities, and save lives. They did not volunteer to get cancer.”

The New York State Volunteer Firefighter Enhanced Cancer Disability Benefits Act makes volunteer firefighters eligible for enhanced cancer disability benefits if they have served for at least five years as an interior firefighter. They also need to successfully pass a physical examination upon entering the fire service and not show and signs of cancer.

This fire on Feb. 4 on Bates Road in Medina spewed dark smoke.

The legislation provides the following benefits:

• A volunteer firefighter who meets the eligibility requirements shall be eligible for a lump sum payment of $6,250 or $25,000, depending on severity. (This amount may be drawn from a pool of $50,000 which is available if there is more than one negative diagnosis over the volunteer firefighter’s lifetime).

• If the volunteer firefighter is totally disabled, a monthly benefit of $1,500 payable up to 36 consecutive monthly payments.

• In case of death, the volunteer firefighters’ family will be eligible for an accidental death benefit in the amount of $50,000.

Assemblyman Steve Hawley (R-Batavia) supports the bill.

“Firefighters are important members of our society who protect us in so many ways,” Hawley said in a news release. “Often, firefighters are the first ones to arrive on scene, and they put their lives at risk every day to keep us safe from harm, whether it be from fires, car accidents or other tragedies. They protect our lives so it is only fair that we work to protect or improve their lives. This is why I have supported this bill to help give volunteer firefighters the benefits they deserve if they should suffer from such a terrible disease as cancer. They fight for us, so we must fight for them.”

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