Assemblyman
Bob
Sweeney

reports to
the people

Fall 2004



NEWS ON FIRE AND AMBULANCE ISSUES
FROM
ASSEMBLYMAN BOB SWEENEY


Fall 2004

The 2004 New York State legislative session has resulted in legislation and budget actions that affect the volunteer fire and ambulance services in a variety of ways.

This newsletter highlights some of those issues, describing the bills and giving their current status. Please note that in order for a bill to become a law, it must pass both the State Assembly and the State Senate and be signed by the Governor. Bills described as “Chapters” have been signed into law.

I’d appreciate it if you would share this information with others you think might have an interest. If you need additional copies of this newsletter, please let me know.

I hope you find this newsletter to be helpful and informative. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome.

Very truly yours,

Member of Assembly



FIRST RESPONDERS PUBLIC HEARING

First Responders, including fire, police and emergency medical services, are the critical component of New York State’s emergency response structure. September 11, 2001, highlighted their important role in responding to chemical and biological threats including anthrax scares.

On March 8, 2004, as part of an ongoing commitment to safeguard our communities, Assemblyman Bob Sweeney held a hearing in Albany, New York entitled “Emergency First Responders: Equipment, Recruitment and Training.” The hearing provided a forum for First Responders to identify their needs and concerns relating to New York’s emergency response preparedness. First Responders from across the State testified about problems with existing preparedness efforts including funding, planning and coordination.

At the hearing, First Responders consistently identified four themes:

  • Inadequate federal funding
  • Outdated or obsolete radio equipment and communication systems
  • Statewide equipment shortages
  • Insufficient access to training

The First Responder Hearing was only the latest step in the Assembly’s ongoing commitment to ensuring increased homeland security. The First Responder hearing followed a series of joint hearings to review New York State’s organizational structure for disaster preparedness. A limited number of the hearing report entitled “First Responders: A Last Priority?”, are available by calling Assemblyman Sweeney’s office at 957-2087.


ASSEMBLY PAYS TRIBUTE TO NEW YORK’S VOLUNTEER FIRE AND AMBULANCE CORPS

Following the first responder hearing and report, the Assembly sponsored its first-ever “Volunteer Firefighters & Emergency Medical Workers Day”, in Albany. It included Assembly passage of a 10-bill package aimed at supporting the work of New York State’s local fire and ambulance corps.

Sweeney noted that in designating Volunteer Firefighter and Emergency Medical Worker Day, the Assembly sought to honor New York’s fire and ambulance personnel and encourage the retention of volunteer firefighter and ambulance crews.

Highlighting work on the legislation by the Assembly during the past year, Sweeney said many of the initiatives addressed issues such as statewide equipment shortages and insufficient access to training that were exposed during public hearings held by the Assembly on the state of New York’s disaster preparedness.

“We honor those who serve as firefighters and emergency medical personnel for their dedication and heroic service. They perform their calling with bravery and commitment while ignoring the risk and peril of the situations they find themselves in. They deserve the support provided by this legislation,” said Sweeney.

“As incoming president of the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY), it is a distinct pleasure to compliment my Suffolk County neighbor, Assemblyman Bob Sweeney and the leader of the Assembly, Speaker Sheldon Silver, for this unique initiative — Volunteer Firefighter and Emergency Medical Workers Day - in the Assembly. FASNY is very supportive of this legislative effort to make the emergency response organizations better equipped to respond to New York’s citizens,” said Ed Carpenter.

“We are more than pleased with the actions taken this week by the New York State Assembly. This legislation provides support such as recruitment and retention initiatives, much needed legal protection to New York State’s Fire Service and greater access to funding for equipment. All of these actions will help ensure that New York State continues to receive the best possible fire and EMS protection possible,” said Tom LaBelle, New York State Association of Fire Chiefs.

“As first responders, we are all too aware of the constant dangers we face at an emergency scene. Now the State Assembly has taken the first step to ensuring that we also have legal protections afforded to our fire service personnel. This, combined with increased access to funding, will help ensure that firefighters are given all the tools they need to protect New York State’s citizens,” said Chief James King, president, New York State Association of Fire Chiefs.

A full description of the bills acted upon by the Assembly is in this report.

NEARLY $12 MILLION FOR NASSAU - SUFFOLK 911

Assemblyman Bob Sweeney has announced the award of grants totaling $11,823,022 million to help Suffolk and Nassau counties improve their 911 emergency dispatch capabilities.

The grants were awarded by the State 911 Board as part of the $100 million Expedited Deployment Program enacted last year by the State Legislature, following a successful override of the governor’s veto.

The State funds are intended to spur the development of enhanced wireless 911 service by assisting localities with equipment purchases. Enhanced wireless 911 service refers to the ability of emergency dispatchers to automatically pinpoint the location and call-back number of wireless callers, as can now be done for land-line calls.

Sweeney, Chairman of the Assembly’s Local Government Committee and a member of the New York State 911 Board which approved funding, said that “many people buy cell phones to use in case of an emergency. What they don’t know is that right now in New York State if they can’t tell us precisely where they are, we may not have the capability to find them. These new funds will help localities expedite life-saving improvements to our local 911 systems – enabling local emergency dispatch centers to pinpoint emergency calls and call-back numbers from wireless phones.”

EMS MEMORIAL DEDICATED IN ALBANY

Assemblyman Bob Sweeney recently joined with the Governor, and other state legislators and hundreds of New Yorkers in dedicating the New York State Emergency Medical Services Memorial at the Empire State Plaza in Albany.

Assemblyman Sweeney sponsored the legislation to build the memorial and secured funding for it. The memorial honors EMS members who have made the ultimate sacrifice and given their lives in the line of duty.

LEGISLATION OF INTEREST

Volunteer Ambulance Workers Benefit Increase
A.2213 Sweeney; Chapter 233 of the Laws of 2004

Volunteer ambulance workers provide an important service to the people of New York State, and unfortunately, the provision of that service brings with it an inherent danger. Since 1991, nine volunteer ambulance workers have been killed in the line of duty. The tragic events of September 11th have brought even closer to home the important role of emergency service providers and the dangers involved in their work.

The funeral expense and death benefit payments of the Volunteer Ambulance Workers’ Benefit Law mirror the provisions of the Volunteer Firefighters’ Benefit Law; however, the provisions of the Firefighters’ Benefit Law have been amended several times since enactment to provide benefit increases. Volunteer ambulance workers last received an increase in 1988. This legislation will provide volunteer ambulance workers with a much-needed benefit increase and re-establish parity with the benefits currently received by volunteer firefighters.

Service Award Benefit Increase
A.11198 Sweeney

Volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers provide a vital service to the communities they serve. However, fire and ambulance companies are having an increasingly difficult time attracting volunteers. Service award programs provide an incentive to encourage people to volunteer as firefighters and ambulance workers. These service award programs are created at local option and provide the volunteer equivalent of pensions. Service award benefits have not been increased since 1998. This legislation authorizes an increase, at local option, of these benefits. Any increase would be subject to voter approval.

This legislation has passed both houses.

Task Force on Volunteer Firefighter and Ambulance Worker Health Insurance Coverage
A.11196 Sweeney

The possibility of offering health insurance to volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers as a recruitment and retention incentive has been suggested as a way to reverse the decline in volunteerism. This legislation creates a nine-member task force to provide recommendations to the Legislature and the Governor on the feasibility of utilizing health insurance as a volunteer recruitment incentive. Members will include representatives from volunteer fire and ambulance organizations, as well as municipalities. The State commissioners of Health and Insurance will also serve on the taskforce which will be chaired by the Secretary of State. This legislation has passed both houses.

Revolving Loan Fund Increase
A.10117 Magee

Many fire and ambulance companies need additional funding in order to continue to provide high levels of service. This legislation raises the maximum loan limits available through the Emergency Services Revolving Loan fund for the purchase of firefighting and ambulance equipment. In addition, this legislation would allow loans for the construction of live fire training facilities.

This legislation has passed both houses.

Donated Fire Equipment Liability
A.9748-B Gromack

Last year, legislation was passed to remove liability for donated fire equipment in order to encourage the donation of fire equipment to needy or rural fire districts. That legislation permitted fire districts that donated fire equipment, recertified as meeting manufacturer’s specifications, to a volunteer fire company, to be free of civil liability for any injury or damage caused by the donated equipment. This legislation provides technical amendments to last year’s legislation, including clarifying the definitions regarding eligible donors.

This legislation has passed both houses.

Volunteer Firefighter and Ambulance Worker Settlements
A.11200 Sweeney

Currently, injured workers and employers/insurance carriers benefit from the ability to enter into lump sum settlements for payments of claims under the Workers’ Compensation Law; however, this option is not currently available to volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers. This legislation provides volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers with the same ability as injured workers to accept lump sum settlements for payment of claims.

This legislation has passed both houses.

Volunteer Work by Police Officers
A.10367-A Abbate

Police officers that wish to volunteer their time should not be prevented from doing so; however, some police departments currently prohibit their police officers from performing volunteer work while off duty. This prohibition has eliminated an important pool of volunteers from performing a variety of functions, including fire service. This legislation permits police officers to serve as volunteers as long as the service does not interfere with their duties or create a conflict of interest. Additionally, the type of volunteer activity must be approved by the police department.

This legislation has passed both houses.

Emergency Vehicle Fuel Costs
A.955 Smith

The growing cost of fuel for emergency vehicles has become a drain on fire district budgets. In addition, the essential nature of fuel costs makes it difficult for districts to wait for voter approval prior to expenditures. Currently, certain other essential items, like insurance, are exempt from fire district spending limits. This legislation adds the cost of fuel for emergency vehicles to the list of exempt items.

This legislation has passed both houses.

Fire District Petition Clarification
A.11201 Destito

In 2000, legislation was enacted to provide uniformity in the authentication of petitions. An unintended effect of that legislation was to remove the applicability to petitions to establish or extend a district. This legislation corrects the problem and restores the original legislative intent. This legislation has passed both houses.

Suffolk County Ambulance Ordinances
A.9675 Sweeney; Chapter 67 of the Laws of 2004

This legislation extends the grant of authority to municipalities in Suffolk County to establish local ordinances to outlaw certain private ambulance units from responding to calls for service dispatched to volunteer emergency medical or ambulance units.

Suffolk County Volunteer Firefighter and Ambulance Worker Property Tax Reduction
A. 9333 Sweeney; Chapter 9 of the Laws of 2004

This legislation authorizes, at local option, certain volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers in Suffolk County to receive up to a ten-percent real property tax reduction.

Permanent Heart Disease Disability Benefits
A.897-A Magee

In 1977, the Legislature found that volunteer firefighters often suffered injuries or deaths resulting from heart attacks suffered in the line of duty. The Legislature also found that claims of injuries from heart attacks were often subjected to lengthy delays. As a result, the Legislature established specific procedures to expedite the handling of such claims. This legislation makes permanent the provisions relating to disability due to heart disease which are scheduled to expire on June 30, 2005.

This legislation has passed the Assembly, but the Senate has not yet taken action.

Volunteer Firefighter Defense and Indemnification
A.11197 Sweeney

Volunteer firefighters generously perform an essential function without compensation; however, the fear of personal financial liability discourages some people from becoming and continuing to serve as volunteer firefighters. Their status as volunteers has led to questions about the ability of public entities to pay for legal costs and any resulting judgments, a process known as defense and indemnification. This legislation requires municipalities and fire districts to provide defense and indemnification for actions taken by the volunteer firefighter, provided that the firefighter meets the municipality’s training standards and the acts did not involve willful negligence or malfeasance.

This legislation has passed the Assembly, but the Senate has not yet taken action.

Long Distance Learning Availability
A.11195 Ramos

Since September 11, 2001, the increased responsibilities of firefighters have forced them to perform an increasing number of tasks within a limited amount of time. At a hearing held in March of this year, firefighters frequently cited concerns regarding the availability and proximity of required training and indicated certain training demands are actually a deterrent to recruitment and retention. New technology provides new opportunities for training that can reduce the time burden placed upon firefighters.

This legislation requires the State Office of Fire Prevention to make firefighting training available by video or computer to the maximum extent practical.

This legislation has passed the Assembly, but the Senate has not yet taken action.

Equipping First Aid Squads
A.1779-A Magee

Due to an inconsistency in statute, there is some uncertainty as to whether or not fire districts may purchase uniforms for emergency rescue and first aid squads formed as part of the fire district. This legislation is intended to rectify the discrepancy and explicitly authorize the purchase of uniforms. Fire companies formed pursuant to other provisions of the Town Law have a clearly stated authorization to make such uniform purchases. This legislation mirrors those provisions.

This legislation has passed the Assembly, but the Senate has not yet taken action.

Making Co-ops Eligible for the Tax Exemption
A.10038-B Sweeney

This legislation clarifies that the ten percent real property tax exemption for volunteer firefighters and ambulance service workers applies to volunteer firefighters and ambulance service workers who live in and own a cooperative apartment.

This legislation has passed both houses.


ASSEMBLYMAN BOB SWEENEY
270-B N. WELLWOOD AVENUE, LINDENHURST, NY 11757
PHONE (631) 957-2087

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