Cuomo OKs health benefit for volunteer firefighters

New York volunteer firefighters who have been diagnosed with certain cancers will be eligible for health care benefits under a new state law.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Sunday that he had signed legislation that will provide the benefit to the nearly 100,000 New Yorkers who serve as volunteers with fire companies across the state.

Volunteer firefighters injured in the line of duty are currently eligible for accidental disability and death benefits through Workers’ Compensation. Under the new law, as of Jan. 1, 2019, firefighters will also be eligible to receive health benefits to support treatments for certain cancers.

Among the types of cancers covered under the law are lung, prostate, breast, urinary and melanoma. Firefighters are eligible if they showed no evidence of cancer during their pre-service physical, have five years of service as an interior firefighter and are either active or within five years of their last active date.

Edward Tase, director of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, said the bill extends benefits currently enjoyed by paid firefighters to volunteers. Under the bill, eligible firefighters could receive health benefits between $6,250 and $25,000, Tase said.

“We’re extremely proud of it. … This exact same coverage is available to paid firefighters, and we feel the volunteer firefighters deserve the same coverage,” Tase said.

Groups including FASNY have been pushing for the benefit for years.

Tase said the benefit is crucial because firefighters are often exposed to high levels of carcinogens in the line of duty. FASNY is conducting a study of the potential link between firefighting and cancer.

“We’re working very diligently on it to prove our point: cancer is in the fire service,” he said.

Michelle Robertson, president of the Niagara County Volunteer Firemen’s Association, commended state officials for passing the bill, but added it is “just the start of what is needed.”

“We believe the risks have never been greater, given the chemical-based materials that are in structures and furnishings today,” Robertson said. “We must protect and provide coverage for the brave men and women putting their health and lives on the line to protect our communities and all they hold dear.”