CNY firefighters call on Cuomo to sign bill: ‘We didn’t volunteer to get cancer’

Cancer survivor and former Whitesboro Fire Chief Brian McQueen won’t benefit from a bill granting cancer coverage to volunteer firefighters, but he knows how important it will be to the state’s more than 110,000 volunteers.

“When someone tells you you have cancer, your life changes forever,” said McQueen, who was diagnosed with B Cell Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2013.

McQueen joined Central New York firefighters and leaders of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York this morning to call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign the bill into law. This legislation provides presumptive “gap” coverage for volunteer firefighters diagnosed with certain types of cancer, and it unanimously passed both chambers of the state legislature earlier this session.

“Fire service research has confirmed the fact that cancer rates among firefighters is steadily growing,” McQueen said, a past director of FASNY. “Firefighters today are exposed to more toxins, carcinogens and chemicals than we had decades ago.”

McQueen knows first hand that the cost of treating cancer can be extremely high, as it includes co-pays, travel expenses to reach treatment centers and lost wages from not being able to work.

The bill would give $25,000 to volunteer firefighters who contract types of cancer including melanoma, digestive, hematological, lymphatic, urinary, prostate, neurological, breast and reproductive.

If a firefighter is unable to work due to illness, the bill grants firefighters 36 months of $1,500 in disability benefits.

And if a firefighter dies, the bill provides a $50,000 benefit to the firefighter’s family.

Local fire departments, districts or municipalities will pay for the expanded benefits, according to the legislators who sponsored the bill, Sen. Joseph Griffo (R-Rome) and Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica).

Firefighters are eligible for the health care coverage if they have served at least five years and entered the volunteer service after passing a physical that detected no signs of cancer.

This is a benefit that paid firefighters already have. In New York State, paid and volunteer firefighters respond to virtually identical incidents and fires, but only paid firefighters are protected in the event of a cancer diagnosis.

Central New York firefighters call on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation that provides presumptive “gap” coverage for volunteer firefighters diagnosed with certain types of cancer.
“It’s time to protect our protectors,” said David Quinn, FASNY’s chief administrative officer. “Cancer does not discriminate between paid firefighters and volunteer firefighters.”

The bill is now on its way to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and FASNY President Ken Pienkowski urges him to sign it “without delay.”

“Give New York’s volunteers the help and protection they need and more importantly they deserve,” Pienkowski said.”We volunteer to respond to emergencies day and night, rain or snow and everything in between. We volunteer to protect our communities. We did not volunteer to get get cancer.”

Cuomo told reporters in Watertown today that he hasn’t received the bill yet.

“They come up in stages, the bills,” he said. “Legislature passes hundreds of bills. They then send them to me in batches and then we review the bill and I decide to sign or not, but that is a bill that I’m favorably disposed to, I’ll say that.”