New state legislation to expand health benefits for volunteer firefighters


There are 80,000 volunteer firefighters in New York State. (Benjamin Allen / HudValley Photo)

Thanks to new legislation passed in the New York State Senate, Croton Falls Fire Department members can count on expanded health benefits related to their work as volunteer firefighters. Earlier this month, the Senate unanimously passed legislation that makes permanent long-standing law covering disability determinations for volunteer firefighters due to heart and lung conditions.

The legislation (S.2972 and S.2973) comes as a relief to volunteer firefighters across the state and right here in North Salem, who regularly put themselves in harm’s way to serve their communities without pay.

Croton Falls Fire Chief Sean Partenio expressed gratitude for the passage of the legislation. “Cancer is a huge problem for all members of the fire service, whether volunteer or paid. It’s great to know that there would be some protection long-term for hazards we come across on a regular basis volunteering our time to protect the community for free.”

New York State Sen. Pete Harckham, who represents New York’s 40th district, which includes North Salem, was a sponsor of the two bills. “Volunteer firefighters statewide often incur major diseases and ailments in the course of protecting our residents and businesses, so we must reciprocate and safeguard the health of these brave first responders whenever possible,” he said. “These bills eliminate sunset clauses for heart and lung care while also streamlining access to these much deserved health benefits.”

In 1977, the State Legislature established specific procedures to expedite the handling of claims for volunteer firefighters who suffered injuries or deaths resulting from heart attacks suffered in the line of duty. Claims of such injuries were often subjected to lengthy delays. The law, however, needed to be renewed every two years and had expired in June 2020. The bill signed this month makes permanent the provisions related to disability due to heart disease.

The second bill signed by the Senate this month regards firefighters with lung maladies, and amends a 2006 bill similarly to the heart bill.

Firefighters experience risks for lung disease at significantly higher rates compared to the average adult population because of contact with harmful chemicals from combustions. The bill eliminates a sunset clause and makes permanent a safety net for all volunteer firefighters.

“Cardiac events remain the number one killer of firefighters annually across the country and lung issues are also a challenge many firefighters face,” said John Farrell, president of Firefighters Association of the State of New York (FASNY). “Making these vital benefits permanent is very important to the over 80,000 volunteer firefighters in New York State.”

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