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Members of the four largest fire service organizations in New York State descended on the Capitol today for their annual “Government Affairs Day,” meeting with their elected representatives to discuss Issues of United Concern. The two major priorities for New York’s fire service are allowing fire departments to be reimbursed for EMS calls, and obtaining presumptive cancer coverage for the State’s approximately 110,000 volunteers.
The presumptive cancer coverage bill (S. 1411/A. 711) is sponsored by State Senator Joseph Griffo and Assemblymember Aileen Gunther. It unanimously passed the State Senate in January of this year, and is currently in front of the Assembly Local Governments Committee. The legislation extends the already existing Volunteer Firefighters’ Benefit Law (VFBL) to cover all incidents of melanoma, as well as cancers of the digestive, hematological, lymphatic, urinary, prostate, neurological, breast and reproductive systems. It includes numerous compromises which were carefully negotiated between the fire service and Albany lawmakers. These provisions, which include length of service requirements, a statute of repose, and an opt-out clause, are designed to minimize the financial impact of cancer coverage on local municipalities.
Although fire service leaders and organizations have implemented robust education and awareness campaigns in an effort to lower cancer rates, the truth is that cancer is endemic to firefighting. Firefighters are routinely exposed to smoke, toxins, and other cancer-causing agents in the line of duty, which account for much higher diagnosis rates than the general population. Fires have become even more dangerous in recent years as synthetic materials have become commonplace in building and furniture construction. This, coupled with the ubiquitous presence of electronics in homes and offices, means that modern fires are more toxic than ever before, and produce a much greater volume of carcinogens.

The “Fair Play” EMS bill would allow fire departments and districts to recover some of the costs incurred for providing emergency medical services (EMS). This would level the playing field with other EMS providers across the State (including standalone Volunteer Ambulance Corps), all of which are already permitted to bill for their services. Fire departments provide a significant percentage of the EMS services in New York State and these calls required a considerable investment in time, manpower, equipment, and training. The bill (S. 0363 / A. 7717) is sponsored by State Senator Betty Little and Assemblymember Billy Jones, and is before the Senate Finance and Assembly Local Governments Committees.

“Emergency medical services are one of the many extremely important services that fire departments provide,” said Joseph M. Fahd, Jr., President of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs. “Providing these critical services requires a significant investment in training, time, manpower, and equipment. Because of this, non-fire department-based EMS providers have long been allowed to recoup some of these costs. It’s time that fire departments are put on equal footing, and able to do the same.”

“We are grateful to the State Senate for acting in the best interests of New York’s volunteer firefighters, and unanimously passing presumptive cancer coverage,” said Kenneth Pienkowski, President of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York. “The Assembly must act and protect the State’s volunteers. Fires, and the cancers they cause do not discriminate, and neither should New York.
“We can't afford not to cover those who volunteer to protect our families,” said Tom Rinaldi, President of the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York. “We stand united with the rest of New York’s fire service, and call upon the Assembly to act. Presumptive cancer coverage for volunteers must become law.”
“Fires today are far more toxic than ever before,” said Edward Tremblay, President of the County Fire Coordinators’ Association of the State of New York. “Twenty-first century firefighters face more danger than their predecessors, and required twenty-first century protections. Presumptive cancer coverage is a necessity in this day and age, and should be passed into law without delay.”

Other groups present at Government Affairs Day included the Volunteer Fire Police Association of New York State and the New York State Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association.

2017 Issues of United Concern


1. Expanded Cancer Coverage – Provides a rebuttable presumption that several types of cancer are covered under VFBL and VAWBL.

2. Fair Play Ambulance Cost Recovery for Fire Departments – Allows all fire departments and fire districts to bill for ambulance services to even the playing field with all other ambulance providers across the state.

3. Illegal Building Conversions – The IUC supports the continuation of discussions and cooperation with the New York Department of State and the New York State Office of Fire Prevention Control to address the issue of illegal building conversions which endanger residents of the illegally converted buildings and fire firefighters. The IUC further supports any regulatory or legislative initiatives that result from these discussions.

4. VFBL/VAWBL Increase Provides for an increase in VFBL/VAWBL temporary total disability benefit levels from $400 to $650 per week for those volunteer firefighters or ambulance workers injured after July 1, 2017.

5. Fire Apparatus Lemon Law – Provides that Fire, E.M.S. vehicles and apparatus be included under the New York State Lemon Law.

6. Upholstered Furniture Fire Safety Standards – Enhances fire safety standards for upholstered furniture by methods that do not require the use of cancer causing fire retardants.

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