January 21, 2013
Bills would aid firefighters
Annual meeting in Homer details proposed state legislation
HOMER — About 50 volunteer firefighters attended an annual briefing Saturday on the legislative agenda of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, where representatives presented 18 proposed bills related to fire and emergency services they hope to pass in 2013.
The proposed state laws vary from changing upholstery standards for soft furnishings, to revising health insurance and safety standards, to banning the sale of novelty lighters.
The informational session, called a Legislative Outreach Meeting, was hosted by the Homer Fire Department, and brought in volunteers from all over Central New York, as well as a few government officials.
State Sen. James Seward (R-Milford) attended, having helped author some of the bills, such as a proposal to increase the limit amounts for new equipment available under the New York State Emergency Services Revolving Loan Account, which have not been adjusted since 2004.
The loan limit for the purchase of a fire fighting apparatus would go from $225,000 to $375,000, or $400,000 to $550,000 if it is a joint application. Loans for ambulance or rescue vehicle purchases under the proposal would increase from $150,00 to $225,000, or $265,000 to $250,000 if a joint application.
“Inflation and escalating costs for the purchase and repair of equipment and facilities have rendered the Emergency Services Loan fund obsolete,” the FASNY proposal reads.
It is an important action that “does not cost the state a dime,” said Doug VanEtten, Cortland County’s deputy fire coordinator for emergency medical service, who was one of the event’s presenters.
“There hasn’t been a default from a fire company yet,” he said.
With volunteer firefighters traveling long distances more often to assist in natural disaster relief, one bill is intended to protect volunteers from losing their paying jobs if they are called away for a lengthy time period. It would only apply in the event of a declared state or local emergency.
Sponsored by Sen. Mark Grisanti (R-Buffalo), the Job Protection for Volunteers bill would prohibit employers from terminating an employee who is late or misses work due to being dispatched to help in such an event.
Eight states, including Ohio, Illinois and California, have already passed similar laws. FASNY is asking for a system similar to that of the National Guard’s.
“We’ll put a push on this. Perhaps all the help they received during (Hurricane) Sandy downstate will work in our favor,” Seward said.
Another bill would ban lighters that are made to look like cartoon characters, cars, phones and other whimsical forms, citing a link to deadly fires caused by young children.
Age was cited as a factor in a fire’s ignition in 37 percent of fires started by 10 to 17 year olds, and 38 percent of civilian deaths are attributed to fires started by someone “playing with fire,” according to the United States Fire Administration.
Nineteen percent of these fires are started by children 4 years old or younger, the FASNY bill states.
Past president of FASNY, David Jacobowitz of Oneida County, said it targets lighters that are attractive to children age 11 and under. Some lighters “light up, flash and do all sorts of attractive things.”
He said this would also apply to lighters made to look like shotguns, AK-47s and other guns as well.
“It’s a common sense bill that saves lives and doesn’t cost money,” said Jacobowitz, adding that he thought the bill would see action this year. It is sponsored by Sen. Jack Martins (R-Mineola) and Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz (D-Bronx).
Several bills would focus on providing health insurance to volunteers in an effort to recruit and retain a diminishing personnel force.
The Affordable Health Insurance for Volunteers bill would allow public corporations to include volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers to access the lower rates provided to municipal workers. It would also require health insurance companies that do not consider volunteers to be employees to do so if they are approved by a local government.
“This bill expands the opportunity of affordable health insurance and helps in our recruiting and retention efforts,” said Kirby Hannon, who sits on FASNY’s legislative committee.
The current total of about 80,000 volunteer firefighters represents a decline of about 20 percent in the past decade, according to the state Office of Fire Prevention and Control.
Another bill would install harsh fines against landlords who illegally alter their buildings to accommodate multifamily dwellings in a way that impedes escape during a fire.
Under this proposal, landlords whose properties violate the uniform fire prevention and building code would face a fine of between $1,000 and $10,000 per day.
In a similar spirit of protecting inhabitants and firefighters, a separate bill would prohibit the sale of upholstered furniture in the case that it can become fully involved in flames in less than 20 minutes.
The idea of this proposal, according to FASNY, is to combat highly combustible polyurethane foam, which they call “solid gasoline.” Polyurethane also emits noxious chemicals when ignited that have been linked to cancer, according to the bill.
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