Assemblymember Responds to First Respondersí Needs

Assembly gives emergency workers support they need
June 22, 2004

The Assembly passed a series of bills designed to give firefighters and emergency medical technicians the support and resources they need on and off the job to keep New York safe, Assemblymember Kevin Cahill (D-Ulster, Dutchess) announced.

"The brave men and women who staff our fire departments and ambulance squads keep us safe day and night," Mr. Cahill said. "At times of great personal crisis, these lifesavers calmly and coolly deliver the help we need. We owe them a lot, and this legislation shows our gratitude and support."

Providing greater incentives for volunteers

To encourage citizens to join the ranks of volunteer emergency squads, the Assemblyís legislation would authorize municipalities to provide an increase in local volunteer service award benefits Ė which havenít increased since 1998 (A.11198). Such award programs, which provide volunteers with pension-type benefits, are created locally and require voter approval. The package would also create a temporary task force designed to examine volunteer recruitment (A.11196). One of the major issues the task force will address is whether to offer health insurance to volunteer firefighters.

These measures build on legislation passed earlier by the Assembly to ensure volunteer firefighters who suffer heart attacks while performing their duties are covered by the Firefighters Benefit Law (A.897-A), as well as to increase funeral expenses and death benefits payable to the surviving families of volunteer ambulance workers killed in the line of duty (A.2213).

"Emergency work is incredibly tough and not a lot of people can handle it. Thatís what sets these responders apart," the Assemblymember said. "We need to do our part to take care of these dedicated individuals and their families."

Another bill requires localities to cover the legal defense of volunteer firefighters involved in lawsuits related to the performance of their duties (A.11197). Volunteer firefighters are already exempt from civil liability except in cases of negligence or malfeasance, but sometimes are forced to pay legal costs to prove they werenít negligent.

"This measure will prevent these volunteers from being saddled with crippling legal costs when they were just doing their duty," Assemblymember Cahill said.

Greater safety through better training and resources

The Assemblyís package also recognizes how critical it is for emergency workers to have the most up-to-date training, equipment and resources available. The package includes legislation that would:

  • increase the loan limits available under the Emergency Services Revolving Loan Fund, giving local departments more access to the equipment they need (A.10117);
  • require the stateís Office of Fire Prevention and Control to make training available by video or computer when possible (A.11195);
  • allow departments to adjust their budgets to accommodate higher fuel costs so fire districts donít hit budget ceilings because of soaring fuel costs (A.955); and
  • encourage donation of equipment to fire departments by exempting such equipment Ė which must first be inspected by a qualified technician Ė from liability (A9748-B).

"As a citizen, itís important for me to know that emergency responders have the training, equipment, and resources to solve a problem safely," said Assemblymember Cahill. "With the best resources in place, theyíll be better able to keep communities safe."

Speeding up emergency response times

"The sooner firefighters and ambulances respond to an emergency, the less likely it is that that emergency will turn tragic," Mr. Cahill said. "The Assembly is trying to find innovative ways to speed up response times."

One resolution the Assembly passed calls on the Federal Communications Commission to provide first responders with emergency priority access to the wireless communications network (K.2368). As was seen on Sept. 11th, in times of emergency, wireless phone networks quickly clog up, hampering emergency communications and reducing effectiveness.

Another bill would give fire trucks and ambulances special permits that would allow them to drive through toll booths without paying (A.11202). While itís common practice for toll booth attendants to wave emergency vehicles through, thereís no law requiring it. In order to avoid any problems that could occur, this bill solidifies that custom by making it law.

"We all owe emergency responders a lot, and we donít always show it as clearly as we should. I have great respect and admiration for everything first responders do, and this legislation demonstrates that," concluded Mr. Cahill.