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New York State Fire Service Alliance rallies in Albany for volunteer firefighter legislation


Tue, Feb 27th 2024 12:05 pm

NYS Fire Service Alliance members host press conference amid budget talks

Submitted on behalf of the New York State Fire Alliance

Last year, New York led the nation in residential fire deaths, with 154 home fire fatalities statewide between January and December of 2023 according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Sadly, we’ve seen this trend continue with 24 residential fire deaths reported in New York since Jan. 1 – the most of any state this year. In fact, New York has been among the top four U.S. states for home fire deaths for more than a decade, totaling 1,358 home fire fatalities since 2014.

Fatal fires can occur anywhere. Destructive and deadly house fires have occurred not only in the dense neighborhoods of New York City but also on Long Island, Buffalo, the Hudson Valley, the Adirondacks, the North Country and other communities around the state where volunteer firefighters provide the vast majority of response. While calls have nearly doubled, the number of volunteer firefighters statewide has fallen by over 20,000 in the last two decades.

New York’s volunteer firefighters provide more than just life-saving emergency response services. Last year, FASNY released a financial impact study, which found that volunteer firefighters save state taxpayers more than $3 billion annually in salaries and benefits due to volunteers working without pay. These men and women also train new volunteer firefighters, provide essential community outreach and promote fire safety education across New York state.

Oftentimes, home fire deaths are preventable. Nearly 3 in 5 residential fire deaths in the U.S. occur in homes with non-working smoke detectors, and ensuring all homes have functioning and up-to-date fire safety equipment saves lives. Yet, tragic home fire fatalities continue to devastate our communities on a regular basis.

Change is long overdue, and the six member associations that comprise the New York State Fire Safety Association – including the Firefighters Association of the State of New York, New York State Association of Fire Chiefs, Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York, Volunteer Fire Police Association of the State of New York, New York State Fire Coordinators’ Association and New York State Fire Marshals and Inspectors Association – have identified priority budget provisions to support recruitment and retention and better support the needs of volunteer firefighters. These include improving tax benefits available to volunteer firefighters, combatting fire death by providing a sales tax exemption on home life safety products, and a provision of cost relief to underwriters related to administration of cancer coverage, and other key priorities related to mental health and workers’ compensation.

“The Firefighters Association of New York is a staunch supporter of fire safety public education and is working steadfastly to bring awareness to this issue and create change,” FASNY Association President Edward Tase Jr. said. “FASNY also supports economic incentives to make fire safety equipment more readily available and improving state income tax credit and local property tax exemptions to support critical statewide recruitment efforts for volunteer firefighters.”

New York State Assembly member Monica Wallace said, “Fire alarms and carbon monoxide detectors save lives. Experts find that most home fire and carbon monoxide deaths occur in houses that lack these devices. So, it's essential that every home have these devices – especially in New York where we have old housing stock and lead the nation in home fire deaths. By waiving sales tax during the month of October, the state will raise awareness and encourage New Yorkers to buy these lifesaving products.”

New York State Sen. Monica R. Martinez said, “The loss of over 20,000 volunteer firefighters across New York state in the past decade means we're playing with fire. While volunteer fire and ambulance providers do not choose to serve their neighbors for the incentives, these benefits, including the state income tax credit, do provide real assistance to those who give so freely of themselves for the protection of others. Since its creation in 2007, the income tax credit has not only supported the sacrifice of our volunteers but also served to encourage other like-minded individuals to join. Despite this, however, the credit itself has never been adjusted to reverse the declining benefit it provides. Now, in the face of falling membership, is the time to fire up enrollment by increasing the credit from its current levels to ones that will serve as a more attractive incentive for service.”

New York State Assembly member Fred Thiele said, “The steep decline in the number of New York’s volunteer firefighters, which respond to emergency calls in the majority of the state, is a major cause for concern. It’s critical that New York state provides adequate financial incentives, including an income tax credit increase and property tax exemption that reflect modern cost of living, to support better recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters and other emergency service providers.”

New York State Assembly member Chris Burdick said, "New York state's volunteer and professional firefighters and first responders are heroes who every day provide essential services for the health and safety of our citizens. Ensuring that there are programs in place to protect their health and safety is of the utmost importance. Sadly, emergency first responders are at an increased risk for mental illnesses such as depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Instituting the peer-to-peer support program that this bill creates is essential to the well-being and mental health of those who protect us."

New York State Sen. Kevin Thomas said, “Home fire fatalities are often preventable. Many times, these tragedies occur in residences with non-functioning or out-of-date home life safety products. Allowing a tax exemption for fire extinguishers, fire alarms, heat alarms or carbon monoxide alarms purchased for residential use would lower financial barriers to life safety products for all New Yorkers and send a strong message about fire safety to residents statewide who may not have the proper tools to prevent home fire deaths.”

New York State Assemblyman Steve Otis said, “EMS and first responder response time has increasingly become a challenge throughout New York. There has been a decline in recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters and other first responders. Recognizing EMS as an essential service, establishing mechanisms for the financing and operation of the life-saving services these heroes provide, and expanding access to health insurance and retirement benefits available to EMS providers would help address the recruitment and retention crisis we’re experiencing throughout the state.”

New York State Association of Fire Chiefs President Scott Ewing said, “New York state is in dire need of more volunteer firefighters and fire chiefs. Many fire departments are struggling right now. The Association of Fire Chiefs is a dedicated advocate and supporter of legislation to incentivize stronger recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters statewide, including an increased income tax credit, localized property tax exemptions, a sales tax exemption on home life safety products to combat fire deaths, and support for better mental and physical health of volunteer firefighters who sacrifice so much for their communities.”

Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York President Donald Corkery said, “The Association of Fire Districts is dedicated to improving the fiscal responsibility, efficiency and effectiveness of fire district management for commissioners and other fire district officials outside of New York City. We are proud to stand alongside associations like FASNY to encourage lawmakers to pass legislation that would improve the operation of fire districts and departments statewide and incentivize more New Yorkers to serve their communities through deserved benefits and perks including income and property tax breaks, grants and scholarships for free or reduced college tuition, and even retirement benefits and service pensions.”

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