Pataki Signs Bills To Aid Volunteer Firefighters
Governor George E. Pataki today announced that he has signed two bills into law that will increase benefits to firefighters in New York by adding a new incentive for volunteer firefighters to improve their skills and readiness and enhancing accidental disability benefits for New York City firefighters.
"As we have seen time and time again, New York’s firefighters, police and emergency rescue personnel are true heroes who risk their lives everyday to protect us," Governor Pataki said. "These two new laws will take necessary steps towards ensuring that these fine men and women continue to be the most highly trained and skilled rescue personnel in the world and that they continue to have the protections they deserve under our State’s workers’ compensation laws."
The first bill signed into law by the Governor will provide an additional incentive for volunteer firefighters to complete advanced emergency training courses by allowing them to receive additional service award points for training courses over 100 hours in duration. Under the new law, firefighters can accumulate a maximum of 25 points for courses over 100 hours. Currently, they are only allowed to accumulate up to 15 points for any course 45 hours and over.
Senator William Stachowski said, "Here in New York we are very fortunate to have thousands of individuals who dedicate their time, talents and indeed, their lives, to protecting our residents. With enactment of this new law, we can provide communities across the state with another tool to attract and retain these volunteers to the fire service. I’m very pleased the Governor recognized the need and merits of this measure."
Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz said, "The additional credits will reward firefighters who have invested a great amount of time to become better trained in response to first aid calls. Our volunteer firefighters deserve benefits for the self-less acts they provide every day."
Presently municipalities, fire districts, and fire departments are allowed to establish a service award benefit program for their active duty volunteer firefighters. Once established, the municipality, fire district or fire department make payments into a benefit plan and benefits are disbursed when the participating volunteer firefighter reaches the entitlement age, or when the firefighter suffers a permanent total disability. The amount of the payment is determined by the volunteer firefighter’s period of active service and may be enhanced by participation in selected activities, such as training courses, drills, and emergency response. By participating in these activities, volunteer firefighters accumulate points.
The additional points firefighters can accumulate for courses that entail longer hours will provide an added incentive to complete courses that will allow them to better serve the public. Many advanced courses such as Emergency Medical Training (EMT) and Advanced Emergency Medical Training, require 120 hours and 240 hours to complete, respectively. Since a significant number of fire company calls relate to first aid, EMT training for volunteer firefighters is vitally important.
The Governor also signed into law legislation enhancing accidental disability benefits for New York City firefighters. Specifically the new law will grant New York City firefighters diagnosed with neurological, breast, or reproductive cancer the same presumption as other firefighters in New York State that the disease was contracted during the course of duty.
It is widely recognized that during the course of their duties firefighters are exposed to unusual amounts of chemical products and compounds. This has resulted in excessive incidents of mouth and throat cancer, intestinal cancers, lung and lymphatic cancer and leukemia deaths.
Legislation was passed in 1994 to create presumptive evidence that these diseases were incurred during the performance and discharge of duties, when a physical examination upon entry into service failed to reveal any evidence of such condition. This presumption was subsequently expanded to address a wider variety of cancers that may be linked to the uniquely dangerous activities undertaken by firefighters.
This expansion corrects the current inequity between New York City firefighters and firefighters outside New York City. This is especially important because New York City firefighters currently receive no presumption in regard to breast cancer. The new law removes the inequity encountered by female firefighters by giving them the same protections as their male counterparts by including breast cancer within the types of diseases receiving the presumption.