Added Benefits and Tax Incentives Will Help Attract Volunteers for Firehouses and Ambulance Squads

Every day, lives depend on the volunteers who staff our fire stations and emergency services to keep our families and communities safe. They are the ones ready at a second’s notice, day or night, to bring vital aid when a house burns, passengers cling to life after a car accident or a heart attack leaves a loved one helpless.

These first responders need good equipment to help them do their jobs. In previous years, I secured state funding for the Solvay Fire Department, the Lakeside Fire District, the Syracuse Firefighters Association Local 288 and the Baldwinsville Volunteer Fire Company for protective gear. This year, I secured funding for the Lakeland Fire Department to purchase new helmets, coats, pants and boots.

As well as material, we owe these volunteers our support, gratitude and the means to make it easier to continue their dangerous work. The Assembly passed a series of bills to provide tax incentives and enhanced benefits to encourage and increase this volunteerism. We recently overrode the governor’s veto to pass a bipartisan budget that provides a $25 million income tax credit for volunteer firefighters.

These men and women help us without getting paid, and more and more spend their time and money fighting court battles to defend their actions. We need to remove their personal financial liability, which seriously hinders volunteerism. I supported legislation requiring municipalities to provide liability coverage for volunteer firefighters (A.1600-A).

I also supported legislation that would provide a cost-of-living adjustment to death benefits for the families of volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers (A.10649). In many parts of the state, volunteer firefighters risk their lives as the first line of defense in emergencies. They should have peace of mind knowing that their families will be adequately compensated.

Their job also exposes them to many different synthetic chemicals, and lung disabilities for firefighters exceed the rate for average adults. To provide additional coverage, I sponsored a bill that amends the firefighter’s benefit law relating to certain lung disabilities volunteer firefighters incur (A. 10384). Career firefighters already have this extended coverage and my bill will do the same for volunteer firefighters. Another bill I sponsored gives ambulances and fire trucks fast and free Thruway access, saving time when every second counts (A-1994-A).

The Assembly’s package also:

  • permits fire districts to maintain and equip rescue and first aid squads with whom they generally work (A.10500-A);
  • allows volunteer fire and ambulance companies to receive grants for records management from the Local Government Records Management Improvement Fund (A.10011);
  • allows municipalities or fire districts that contract with or control fire companies to bill hazardous material transporters for costs associated with responding to hazardous material spills (A.7279-C);
  • gives volunteer ambulance services the same immunities and privileges while performing their duties in neighboring communities during mutual aid – outside the area they regularly serve – as they would within their regular area (A.8974-A); and
  • allows volunteer service scholarship recipients to study outside a 50-mile radius of the award-granting volunteer organization, provided he or she becomes a volunteer of an organization within the area of enrollment (A.10279).

Finally, to ensure expert response in emergencies, I sponsored legislation directing the Office of Fire Prevention and Control to develop rules and regulations for training standards and report to the governor and the Legislature on a county-by-county basis (A. 10724). Another bill I sponsored will encourage regional cooperation in fire and ambulance purchases by allowing joint application submissions from multiple applicants (A.10725).

Fire and ambulance companies can work hand-in-hand to improve their services and get the fiscal support they require. Regional cooperation provides a winning solution, providing the community with the equipment it needs, while at the same time saving money.

Helping volunteers fight our fires and provide emergency care gives us continued critical protection.