Weekly Feature

2017-10-05 / Editorial

Volunteer firefighters deserve comprehensive benefits

New York State Assembly Senator

Volunteer fire departments play an essential role in our communities, providing both emergency services and economic benefits. The brave men and women who make up volunteer fire departments selflessly serve in a dangerous job to aid and protect our neighbors and families, providing peace of mind in the process. What’s more, their benefits to our community exceed their presence in times of need and chaos. According to a recent study, volunteer fire departments save Erie County taxpayers over $228 million annually. As a community, we have countless reasons to be thankful for their service and commitment.

When a call comes in, firefighters selflessly rush into burning structures to save lives. But, by doing so, they are often exposed to the burning of everyday household products such as plastic, chemicals and insulation. While equipment and prevention techniques have improved, there is still a higher rate of cancer among interior firefighters due to their exposure to burning carcinogens. These men and women contract cancer directly from executing their duties, and they deserve financial assistance in fighting their cancer diagnosis.

When firefighters respond to a call, their bravery and heroism aren’t contingent on whether they are a career or a volunteer firefighter. Receiving comprehensive disability benefits shouldn’t be contingent on their career or volunteer status, either. This past legislative session, I was proud to co-sponsor and advocate for a bill to provide benefits for volunteer firefighters who develop cancer from fighting interior fires. This bill closes the gap in coverage for volunteer firefighters, and I was proud to see it pass the Assembly and Senate. I’m hopeful it will be signed into law soon.

I’m honored to serve as chairwoman of the Volunteer Emergency Services Subcommittee in the Assembly. In that capacity, I work closely with local fire chiefs and fellow elected officials to identify issues that fire departments are facing. I recognize that one of the main concerns currently facing volunteer fire departments here in Western New York and across the country is recruitment, and I’m working with fire departments and organizations representing firefighters to address this issue.

In emergency situations, we know that experienced, professional help is a phone call away. That’s the peace of mind that firefighters provide. We’re fortunate to have so many in our community who volunteer their time and risk their lives to help their neighbors. Volunteer firefighters are an indispensable part of our communities, and I’ll continue working to support them as they keep us safe.

As always, feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns you have at 686-0080 or wallacem@nyassembly.gov.

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