The selfless men and women who put their own lives on the line to protect ours are truly unsung heroes. Volunteer firefighters and emergency responders sacrifice their time and safety to serve the communities we call home, and do so out of their own sense of duty. Those who serve often have families, jobs and other obligations, yet are still always ready to help when an emergency strikes throughout the day or night. It’s a role that requires the utmost bravery and dedication, and our loved ones and neighbors who make this commitment deserve our full respect and support.
According to the National Volunteer Fire Council, 65% of firefighters in the United States are volunteers. Our communities rely on these individuals to be the first line of defense in an emergency situation, such as fires, medical incidents, natural disasters and water rescue emergencies, among many others.
I’ve been working hard to ensure volunteer firefighters and emergency responders are given the protections they deserve. To keep our firefighters safe in the line of duty, I co-sponsored a bill firefighters strongly support to prohibit the use of chemical flame retardants on residential upholstered furniture, which when burned in a house fire produces dangerous byproducts that can harm responding firefighters (A.6260-A). I also co-sponsored legislation that would ensure those who knowingly alter or convert a building in a way that endangers and injures a firefighter are held accountable (A.1797).
Far too often, fire departments are forced to stop providing critical services to the communities they serve, such as ambulance services, due to financial constraints. This is largely because our state is the only state in the union to prohibit fire departments from recovering any costs for emergency medical services. This is unacceptable and hinders our departments’ ability to do their job, which is why I’m fighting for legislation that would right this wrong by offering departments the option to recuperate costs for this noble service (A.1778-A). Additionally, I co-sponsored a bill to increase the benefits given to volunteers who sustain a disability while in the line of duty (A.5895). These benefits have not been updated in over 10 years, so increasing this coverage is necessary and long overdue.
A major problem that fire departments across the nation are facing, including right here in New York, is a severe shortage of volunteers. The number of volunteer firefighters in the United States reached a historic low in 2019, while the call volume continues to steadily increase. Twenty years ago, there were approximately 120,000 volunteers in New York – in 2019, there were fewer than 100,000. This has caused many fire departments to close their doors, which poses a serious safety issue for many communities, including those in Central New York.
To combat this growing problem, I helped pass a law to increase the maximum contribution under a length of service award program (LOSAP) to $1,200 for volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers (Ch. 474 of 2019). LOSAPs are pension-like programs intended to help recruit, retain and reward volunteers for their service to the community, and this increase will help provide local departments with the tools they need to address this shortage.
While I’ll continue doing everything I can to combat this ongoing issue, I encourage everyone to get involved with their local fire department, whether it’s working in an administrative role, driving department vehicles or even becoming a volunteer firefighter.
We owe a great debt to the volunteer firefighters and emergency responders who work every day to keep our Central New York communities safe. It’s because of their courage and willingness to serve that we can rest assured that our call for help will always be answered.
As always, my door is open. If you have questions or concerns about this or any other community issue, reach out to my office at 315-452-1115 or StirpeA@nyassembly.gov.