This weekend I attended the Fall 2016 Legislative Conference of the Firemen’s Association of New York in Albany. I caucused with the Hudson Valley Volunteer Firemen’s Association on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, and attended the general meeting of members on Sunday at which an affirmative vote was taken to advance legislation for the 2016 legislative session. The following proposals were put on the legislative agenda.
- Expanded Cancer Impairment – Legislation to provide a rebuttable presumption that several types of cancer are caused by the volunteer’s service in the fire department or ambulance corps, as is currently the case for paid firefighters. Currently there is no such presumption, which means that the volunteer must prove that the cancer was caused by an activity in the volunteer service.
- Amend the Penal Code to Add Endangering the Welfare of a First Responder – Legislation to make it a crime to illegally circumvent the uniform building code by making illegal conversions a criminal act of “endangering the welfare of a first responder.” The rationale is that illegal conversions, made by landlords for illicit profit, may not have proper egress and could create an extremely dangerous situation for firefighters.
- VFBL/VAWBL Partial Disability Benefit Increase – Legislation to increase the partial permanent disability benefit level of fire department and ambulance corps members from $400 to $650 per week.
- Fair Play Ambulance Cost Recovery for Fire Departments – Legislation to allow fire departments, such as Bedford Village Fire Department, which provide EMS coverage as well as fire protection to bill for ambulance services, which would even the playing field with other ambulance departments in New York State.
- Prompt Payment of VFBL Death Benefits – Legislation to establish the payment of certain volunteer fire department and ambulance corps death benefits within 90 days of filing the application.
The Legislative Committee urged members to write to Governor Cuomo to ask him to sign legislation approved by the State Legislature which would increase the VFBL benefit for permanently disabled firefighters from $400 to $600 per week.
Although the Hudson Valley Firemen’s Association had urged their inclusion on the legislative agenda, the Legislative Committee did not put on the agenda certain proposals which were clearly aimed at improving safety of firefighters and the general public:
- Safety Standards for Upholstered Furniture – Legislation to enhance fire safety standards for upholstered furniture by methods that do not require the use of fire retardant chemicals that are suspected carcinogens. This seemed like a no-brainer, since FASNY’s central purpose is to improve the health and safety of volunteer fire and ambulance services in New York State.
- Prohibiting Sky Lanterns – Sky lanterns are described as floating balls of fire. The proposed legislation would ban the sale of sky lanterns or, in the alternative, would establish guidelines for the use of such lanterns.
- Require all School Inspections to be Performed and Signed By a Certified Code Enforcement Officer – This proposal would amend the Education Law to require all schools, not just public schools, to have their premises inspected by certified code enforcement officers, not just by representatives designated by the schools who may no training in fire safety and who in many cases just work for the school.
- Impaired Drivers Responsible for Emergency Costs – Legislation which would hold drivers convicted of driving while impaired responsible for paying up to $5,000 in emergency response costs where an accident was involved and emergency services responded.
- Fire Apparatus Lemon Law – Legislation to amend the existing lemon law to include emergency vehicles. This legislation would establish guidelines under which companies that build and sell emergency vehicles would reimburse the department or replace the vehicle in the event of defects that are not resolved and that are included in the manufacturer’s warranty and are reported within a specified time. The intent of the proposal is to provide procedures to expeditiously resolve disputes between the buyer and the manufacture or seller.
- Repeal of the Fireworks Law – Given apparent pressure to amend the fireworks law to have counties opt in to ban public use of fireworks, as opposed to the current law which provides that they out of the ban, the legislation instead would repeal the fireworks law and actually ban the sale and use of fireworks in New York other than by specifically licensed fireworks providers.
Each of these five proposals which were voted out of the legislative agenda by the legislative committee, but which had been approved by the Hudson Valley caucus, were well thought out and articulately expressed by the caucus. Most caucus members, including our able chairman Jim Hartwick, were disappointed that they and the proposal to enhance fire safety standards for uphostolered furniture were not included on the legislative agenda.