Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed legislation to deliver health care benefits to volunteer firefighters who have been diagnosed with certain cancers.
“New York is forever grateful to the 96,000 volunteer firefighters who selflessly put their own personal safety at risk in order to keep their neighbors and communities safe, Governor Cuomo said. “With this measure, we will provide these courageous New Yorkers the protections they need and the peace of mind they deserve.”
Currently, volunteer firefighters are eligible for accidental disability and death benefits through Workers’ Compensation if they are injured in the line of duty. Effective January 1, 2019, firefighters will also be eligible for health benefits to support treatment for life-threatening cancers.
Under the bill (S1411B- A711B), volunteer firefighters who contract certain cancers will receive access to tax free disability and death benefits. Specifically, volunteer firefighters diagnosed with lung, prostate, breast, lymphatic, hematological, digestive, urinary, neurological, reproductive systems, or melanoma cancer will be automatically eligible for health benefits if:
Upon entry to volunteer, a physical exam did not show any evidence of the cancers covered by this bill;
Individuals have at least five years of service fighting fire in the interior of buildings; and
The firefighter is currently active or within 5 years of his or her last active date.
Senator Joseph A. Griffo said, “The brave men and women who put their lives on the line every day and volunteer to keep our communities safe should not be burdened with unexpected medical bills from illness they received while on the front lines of fire emergencies. Thanks to Governor Cuomo and the Legislature, these courageous New Yorkers will now receive the health benefits they deserve and the opportunity to lead a quality life in the community they have worked so hard to help protect.”
Assemblywoman Aileen M. Gunther said, “To the New Yorkers who may have contracted an illness due to their bravery battling flames and smoke – help is being delivered. Thanks to the Governor’s action to provide benefits to our volunteers, we are taking necessary steps to support our heroic firefighters and thank them for their dedication to protecting communities across New York.”
Kenneth Pienowski, President of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York said, “This is a great day for New York State. Governor Andrew Cuomo and our elected representatives in Albany have acted to decisively protect those who protect the people of this great state. New York’s brave volunteer firefighters now have the protections and help they need in the tragic event of a cancer diagnosis. We are tremendously grateful to the Governor for his action. We also thank State Senator Joseph Griffo, Assemblymember Aileen Gunther, Assemblymember Anthony Brindisi, and Assemblymember Brian Kolb for their leadership and support through this entire process. Because of them, the future generation of volunteer firefighters will not have to face cancer alone.”
John P. Sroka, President of the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs said, “All firefighters, regardless of whether they are paid or volunteer, fight identical fires. Because of this, all firefighters should be treated equally and receive equal benefits in the event of a cancer diagnosis. Thanks to Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, this is now a reality. New York’s selfless volunteers, who sacrifice so much to protect all of us, now have the benefits that they need. The Fire Chiefs of New York applaud Governor Cuomo and the Legislature for their actions today and throughout this year’s session.”
Thomas Rinaldi, President of the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York said, “The Fire Districts of New York are grateful to Governor Andrew Cuomo and bill sponsors State Senator Joseph Griffo, Assemblymember Aileen Gunther, and Assemblymember Anthony Brindisi for protecting New York State’s brave volunteer firefighters. Presumptive cancer coverage is an essential benefit for 21st century firefighters, and the signing of this legislation ensures that all firefighters in New York State will be equipped for 21st century fires. It is fitting that volunteers who sacrifice their time, safety, and health to protect their communities now have essential assistance available in their times of need.”
Dr. Jacqueline Moline, Chair of the FASNY Health & Wellness Committee said, “Firefighters are exposed to an enormous variety of toxins and carcinogens in the line of duty and consequently are more likely to develop cancer than the general population. This is a medical fact. Because of this, it is necessary to offer additional benefits and protections to all firefighters so that if they do develop cancer, they are not left alone. The actions of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature will ensure that all firefighters in New York State will be recognized and assisted once they are diagnosed with cancer.”
This legislation builds on a number of actions taken by this administration to protect the lives of both career and volunteer firefighters in New York State. Most recently, the Governor signed legislation expanding benefits for New Yorker’s who participated in 9/11 response and recovery efforts. Under the bill, residents are eligible for unlimited paid leave at 100 percent of their regular salary dating back to the time of their diagnosis.
In 2015, the Governor announced the roll out of NY Responds, a universal approach to disaster response and recovery that connects emergency management agencies, fire and EMS responders with the New York State Emergency Operations Center in Albany.
Investments have also been made to upgrade the State Fire Academy, which provides critical training to first responders from communities across the state. Located in Montour Falls, the state secured $500,000 in federal funding in May, 2016 to support training efforts there, and since 2011, the Governor has invested $3 million to improve the facility and grounds.