Legislation would provide volunteer firefighters with presumptive cancer coverage for job-related diagnoses
State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-C-I-North Tonawanda, today announced the New York State Senate passed legislation on Monday that would provide volunteer firefighters with more health benefits as they continue to put their lives on the line to protect others. The bill (S3891) amends the Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law to extend levels of protections for volunteer firefighters who develop certain cancer-related diseases while on the job.
Ortt said, "Volunteer firefighters provide an invaluable service across our state and especially here in Western New York. In the vast majority of my rural district, these selfless men and women are the first responders when emergency strikes. This legislation acknowledges the health risks they face and justly offers them the protections they deserve."
North Tonawanda Volunteers Firefighters City Capt. and Sweeney Hose Fire Co. No. 7 President Joe Lavey Jr. said, "There are many times when volunteer firefighters put their lives in danger to keep others safe. There are currently 63 volunteer firefighters in the City of North Tonawanda - that's 63 men and women who I know would be able to breathe a huge sigh of relief if this bill were to become law. We're grateful to Sen. Ortt for his previous legislation in support of volunteer firefighters across the state."
There are more than 100,000 volunteer firefighters statewide who would have presumptive cancer coverage as a result of this legislation. The number of firefighters diagnosed with cancer has increased in recent years, and medical studies have shown they are at a significantly higher risk for various types of cancer than the general population. Increased cancer risks are linked to the high levels of carcinogens and other toxins from building fires and other hazardous settings where firefighters serve.
The bill is being sent to the Assembly.
This measure for volunteer firefighters is in addition to the $250,000 the State Senate recently secured as part of the enacted 2016-17 state budget to support the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters. The funding will help to address the shortage of volunteer firefighters throughout the state by using promotional tools to highlight the importance of protecting local neighborhoods and enforcing public safety. The money will be used for promotional materials, public service announcements and other tools in an effort to bolster the number of volunteers.
The Firemen's Association of the State of New York and the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs today issued the following statement in favor of the bill, which extends 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.
"FASNY applauds the New York State Senate for voting to protect our volunteer firefighters," FASNY President Robert McConville said. "This bill effectively updates VFBL, addressing the 21st-century fires and dangers faced by today's firefighters. This is a benefit that paid firefighters already have, and rightfully so. But fire and smoke, and the cancers they cause, do not discriminate, and neither should New York state.
"This bill passed, in part, because of critical leadership of sponsor state Sen. Michael Nozzolio, and co-sponsor state Sen. Joe Griffo.
"Volunteer firefighters save the taxpayers of this state over $3 billion annually. FASNY asks that the State Assembly now do the right thing and act to protect those who risk their lives to protect the public's safety, and as well as its wallet."
"I want to thank the Senate for passing this important legislation, providing the same coverage for cancer to volunteer firefighters as their brothers and sisters in the career fire service," said Daniel Schwertfeger, president of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs. "I look forward to working with Member of Assembly Aileen Gunther and Member of Assembly Anthony Brindisi as they work to convince the Assembly to do the right thing for the fire service, and pass this legislation."
According to peer-reviewed research published over the past decade, firefighters are 102 percent more likely than the general population to develop testicular cancer, 62 percent more likely to develop cancer of the esophagus and 26 percent more likely to develop breast cancer. These rates are largely due to the high levels of carcinogens and other toxins found in burning buildings and other hazardous environments.
Homes and other buildings today are built much differently than those in the past. Plastics and other synthetic materials are in much greater use than ever before and, when these materials burn, they produce a staggering variety of chemicals and toxins.
Every building is now packed with electronics - TVs, computers, smartphones - which are similarly toxic. Modern firefighters, in both urban and rural departments alike, face far greater dangers than their predecessors.