A decision by the village Board of Trustees to rescind a letter sent in support of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo vetoing the Volunteer Firefighter Enhanced Cancer Disability Benefits bill was met with applause Monday.
Firefighters and their supporters packed the village municipal building conference room to capacity and overflowed into the hallway gathering to voice their opposition to the board’s decision to back the governor’s veto.
Carthage Volunteer Fire Department first assistant chief Brian Draper rallied local firefighters as well as representatives of Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, Believe NNY, the county Fire Chiefs and Firefighters Association to come to the meeting.
Village president G. Wayne McIlroy told those gathered the board acted on a letter received from New York State Conference of Mayors. The letter stated the “Senate and Assembly approved legislation … that would mandate — rather than authorize — a firefighting-related cancer presumption for a series of Volunteer Firefighter Enhanced Cancer Disability Benefits.” In addition, the letter pointed out there was no provision for municipalities to opt out of the mandated legislation and passage of the bill could make it difficult for some municipalities to operate under the less than 2 percent tax cap.
“We are not opposed to the bill but we oppose the state of New York passing a bill and saying ‘here you pay for it,’” said Mr. McIlroy, who had served more than 20 years with the fire department. “Why would we be against the volunteer fire department.”
Brian McQueen of Believe 271, a noprofit organization to aid firefighters battling cancer, spoke of his cancer journey and informed the board of the estimated cost of coverage.
“It would be $63 to $90 per firefighter depending on the plan,” said the past Chief of Whitesboro Fire Department. “That’s pretty inexpensive considering the service provided.”
He stated firefighters have a greater chance of developing cancer.
“I didn’t volunteer to get cancer,” said Mr. McQueen.
Mr. Draper pointed out the bill outlines who would be eligible for the insurance coverage.
“It’s only for interior firefighters who have been in service for five years,” he said, later explaining interior firefighters must go through specialized training to enter burning buildings. In the Carthage department of 30 members, he said only four would be eligible at this time.
“If you are not opposed to the intent of the bill, make a recommendation,” said Carthage fire chief Sean McHale. “We’ve got to do something for somebody. We are losing our ranks. They want to get something back.”
Acting on that suggestion, trustee Michael F. Astafan moved that the board rescind the letter of support and draft a letter to address the state mandates.
Dale Barker of Believe NNY and the St. Lawrence County Fire Association said the bill would give volunteer firefighters the same coverage the professional firefighters have.
“It’s hard to refuse volunteer firefighters — they give everything and get nothing in return,” said Mr. McIlroy. “It will be rescinded.”
Mr. Draper said following the meeting he was satisfied with the result.
“I feel better all around,” he said. “The village board was not educated on the bill. It’s in the hands of the governor now — hopefully he’ll sign it. Sometimes we feel the firefighters don’t have the support of the village board. Maybe this is a new beginning.”
“I applaud the action the village board took tonight,” said Kenneth Penkowski, president of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York. “The volunteer fire department reached out for support and the village board listened.”