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FASNY: Volunteer fire service leaders and elected officials call for presumptive cancer coverage

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Fri, Feb 26th 2016 07:10 pm

New York's 100,000 volunteer firefighters are currently not covered for most cancers

By the Firemen's Association of the State of New York

In a powerful display of unity, leaders representing the Firemen's Association of the State of New York, the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs, and the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York joined together with members of the New York State Senate and Assembly in an effort to extend a helping hand to volunteer firefighters facing a daunting challenge: beating cancer.

Bill S. 3891 / A. 5518 would extend the already existing Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law to cover all instances of melanoma, as well as cancers of the digestive, hematological, lymphatic, urinary, prostate, neurological, breast and reproductive systems. State Sen. Michael Nozzolio and Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther sponsor the bill.

During the 2015 legislative session, this bill unanimously passed the State Senate, but was still in committee in the Assembly at the end of the year. 

Although fire service leaders and organizations have implemented robust education and awareness campaigns in an effort to lower cancer rates, the simple truth remains 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 more and 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 buildings, means modern fires are more toxic than ever before, and produce a much greater volume of carcinogens.

The 100,000 volunteer firefighters in New York routinely risk their lives to rescue their fellow citizens from burning buildings, wrecked cars and other hazardous situations. They sacrifice their evenings, weekends and holidays to take the sick and injured to the hospital, and they do it all while saving New Yorkers more than $3 billion every year - or what it would cost to replace New York's volunteers with an all-paid fire service. These savings are the subject of a financial impact report released in early February.

"Cancer is the scourge of the fire service," FASNY President Robert McConville said. "The brave volunteer firefighters of New York state are dedicated to keeping their fellow citizens safe, but too many pay a tragic price for their courage.

"No volunteer firefighter should have to face cancer alone. Thanks to State Sen. Nozzolio and Assembly member Gunther, the New York State Legislature is in position to tremendously ease the burden of the brave volunteers who are battling cancer. On behalf of FASNY and all of New York's volunteer firefighters, I urge the State Senate and Assembly to pass this bill and send it to Gov. Cuomo's desk."

"This legislation will provide greatly needed presumptive cancer coverage to the nearly 100,000 volunteer firefighters in New York State who are at a significantly higher risk for cancers due to their exposure to carcinogens and other deadly toxins," Nozzolio said. "My constituent, Matthew Foe of Geneva, a volunteer fireman for over 20 years, passed away at the age of 40 after battling brain cancer.

This bill will ensure that dedicated volunteers, like Matthew, who sacrifice their safety to protect all of us will not be neglected when facing a cancer diagnosis." 

"No other group is as worthy of our respect and official support as volunteer firefighters," Gunther said. "The numbers don't lie: Firefighters are more likely to be diagnosed with cancer than a member of the general population, and we must act to ensure that our brave volunteers are protected and looked after in their time of need." 

"As an active first responder and volunteer firefighter, I am acutely aware of the dangers faced by firefighters across New York," said bill co-sponsor state Sen. Phil Boyle. "Thanks to modern construction techniques and materials, fires now burn hotter and with more toxins than ever before. It's critical that we extend the Volunteer Firefighter's Benefits Law to cover these cancers and protect our volunteers." 

"No one who volunteers to help their community should be denied coverage for conditions that clearly result from their service," said Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi, chairman of the Assembly subcommittee on volunteer emergency services and a co-sponsor of the bill. "There are many compelling, personal stories of volunteer firefighters who are also cancer survivors. Firefighting clearly leads to an increased likelihood of cancer, and we should protect all firefighters in the event of a cancer diagnosis."   

"Our local volunteer firefighters in southern Queens and Rockaway have risen to the occasion during some of our state's greatest disasters, from Sept. 11 to 'Superstorm' Sandy. With bravery and determination, their selfless acts continue to keep our families safe. For this and more, we owe it to our vollies to stand with them as they face the greatest challenge of their lives," Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder said. "I am proud to stand with my colleagues and the Fireman's Association of the State of New York in fighting to extend equal cancer treatment coverage to all our first responders, and ensure our vollies are afforded the care they need and deserve."  

Presumptive cancer coverage is the top legislative priority in 2016 for New York's 100,000 volunteer firefighters, and FASNY urges all New Yorkers to call their legislators and tell them no firefighter should have to face cancer alone and without help.

To learn more, visit www.fasny.com/fightcancer.

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