ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Volunteer firefighters in New York state will be screened for past sex offenses under a law signed Monday by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Under the old law, fire department applicants had to be screened only for arson convictions.
The amendment to the law for towns, villages and not-for-profit corporations is meant to ensure registered sex offenders are kept out of fire companies whose members come in contact with vulnerable people. It’s scheduled to take effect in four months.
“Oftentimes, volunteer firefighters are in situations where children and families are present, whether in the actions of a fire or medical emergency, but they also take part in community and school events,” said state Sen. John Bonacic, an Orange County Republican and bill sponsor. “Department personnel should have all the means necessary to prevent convicted sex offenders from becoming volunteers, and remove any who presently serve.”
The law specifically applies to new applicants and transfers from other volunteer fire departments. It authorizes background checks by the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, which maintains New York’s sex offender registry.
However, legislative sponsors, the governor and the firefighters’ association that sought passage said Monday that it’s also a way for removing current members with those convictions.
New York has 92,000 volunteer firefighters and 1,800 local volunteer departments, according to the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York.
“We can also take action for people we didn’t know about,” said James Burns, FASNY president. He said there have been a number of cases in which this has come up. The law “protects the trust” between the public and volunteer fire service, he said.
Two years ago, a former emergency medical technician from suburban Albany was sentenced to 20 years in prison for sexually abusing three boys, including two young teens, he befriended while working as an EMT.