NIAGARA COUNTY, N.Y. (WIVB) – Every day, volunteer firefighters across Western New York put their lives on the line to serve our communities, and aside from the danger they face fighting the flames, they have to deal with the smoke and all of the chemicals, which a long-term risk of getting cancer.
But, until now, many types of cancer have not covered under the state’s disability benefits program for volunteer firefighters.
That could soon change.
The state Senate and Assembly have now both passed the “New York State Volunteer Firefighter Enhanced Cancer Disability Benefits Act”, expanding the list of cancer types covered and the benefit amounts.
“It passed 95-0 on the New York State Assembly floor. We’re very proud of it,” said Edward Tase, a director for the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, known as FASNY.
Tase says the bill has been in the works for three years and it took some tough negotiations to get it passed in the Assembly. The version that was approved is modeled after similar legislation in Georgia.
If the bill is approved by Governor Cuomo, the list of covered cancer types would expand to include digestive, hematological, lymphatic, urinary, prostate, neurological, breast and those of the reproductive systems.
Volunteer firefighters who do get those cancers would now be eligible for a lump sum benefit of about $6,250 or $25,000, depending on the diagnosis, and they could get $1,500 a month for up to 36 months to help cover their expenses if the cancer leaves them unable to work their normal jobs. If the worst should happen, there is a $50,000 death benefit for the families of firefighters who lose their cancer battles.
This brings the volunteer firefighter benefits up to the level received by paid firefighters in the state.
“We fight the same fires and we just need to have the same coverage equal to them,” Tase said. “The only thing is we don’t get paid when we go to work.”
Tase is a long time member of the Frontier Volunteer Fire Company in the town of Wheatfield, and he knows too well the health-risks associated with what firefighters do. Modern furniture and electronics, especially, release toxic fumes when burned, exposing firefighters to dangerous carcinogens. “You’re going into those houses and you’re fighting those fires and you’re not thinking about that when you’re going in to save people and property,” Tase explained.
“We didn’t volunteer to get cancer,” he added. “And there are too many of my friends who are suffering from cancer.”
FASNY has been fighting hard to make sure all volunteer firefighters are taken care of better.
All of the expanded benefits under the bill that was just approved would be paid for by the insurance of the local municipality where the impacted firefighter volunteers, and FASNY officials say the full cost is very small compared to the $3 billion the state saves every year, thanks to the 108,000 volunteer firefighters in New York.
“It’s nowhere near the value of what a volunteer firefighter is worth,” Tase said. “You can’t put a price on somebody’s life.”
The governor has 90 days to decide whether he will sign the bill. Tase says he has high hopes it will be signed into law soon.