By Jessica Chin
The state Legislature passed a law this week that would provide more benefits to volunteer firefighters who develop cancer or become seriously injured in the line of duty.
Volunteer firefighters risk their lives by exposing themselves to toxins that increase their risk of developing cancer, Senator Elaine Phillips, a Republican from Flower Hill and one of the cosponsors of the law, said.
“Our volunteer firefighters are always there to help us during our time of need,” Phillips said. “We need to help them during theirs; That’s what these benefits do.”
The law would provide a safety net to some of the approximately 110,000 volunteer firefighters in the state, according to the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York.
Under the law, volunteer firefighters who develop cancer would be eligible for a lump sum of $25,000.
In addition, a payment of $1,500 per month for up to 36 consecutive months would be available for volunteers who are disabled. If a firefighter were to die in the line of duty, their families would be eligible to receive $50,000.
The law passed in the Senate on Monday with a vote of 62 to 0 and in the Assembly on Tuesday with a vote of 139 to 1.
Firefighters face a higher rate of cancer than the general population, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published in July 2016. This is the result of the dangerous carcinogens and toxins that firefighters are exposed to while on-duty, the study said.
“All volunteer firefighters with at least 5 years of interior firefighting service would qualify for the benefit if they develop cancer,” Chris Schneider, Phillips’ spokesman, said.
Other cosponsors of the legislation are Republican Assemblyman Ed Ra of Franklin Square, among many others.
“Volunteer firefighters are an important part of our community and give us so much without asking anything in return,” said Ra. “Firefighters risk their health and lives every day for our community, it is only right that we ensure that these selfless individuals are protected in the event they contract an illness related to their service as a volunteer firefighter.”
The legislation will now go to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for consideration. If he signs it, the law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019, Schneider said.
Augie Carnevale, the chief of the Garden CityPark Fire Department and firefighter for 40 years, said the bill is “very good” and a “win-win as far as I am concerned for the guys.”
“It’s a step in the right direction to protect the firefighters,” Carnevale said.