Harckham Bill Helping to Guarantee Health Benefits for Volunteer Firefighters Passes in Senate

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The New York State Senate unanimously passed legislation this week sponsored by State Senator Pete Harckham that will help expand health benefits for volunteer firefighters. The legislation, when approved by the Assembly and enacted by the governor, will make permanent the long-standing law covering disability determinations for volunteer firefighters due to certain lung disabilities.

“Volunteer firefighters statewide often incur major diseases and ailments in the course of protecting our residents and businesses, so we must reciprocate and safeguard the health of these brave first responders whenever possible,” said Harckham. “This bill will eliminate a sunset clause for lung care while streamlining access to much deserved health benefits.”

Volunteer firefighters provide an invaluable service to New York State and our individual communities. Accordingly, it simply makes sense to prevent unnecessary worry on the part of volunteer firefighters and their families as to whether or not they will receive their benefits.

Harckham’s bill (S.1176) regarding firefighters with lung maladies will amend a 2006 law that grants important lung health care benefits, yet needs to be renewed through legislative approval and enacted every two years. Similar health benefits for full-time firefighters, though, do not need to go through the biannual approval process—even though career and volunteer firefighters are exposed to the same risks.

The risks are, indeed, significant. Lung disabilities for firefighters exceed those experienced by the average adult population in the U.S. In the line of duty, firefighters are exposed to gases, toxins and other substances that have damaging short- and long-term effects on the respiratory system. Some of the toxic gases and respiratory tract irritants that firefighters are at risk of inhaling include sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, phosgene, nitrous oxides, aldehydes and particulate matter.

The New York State Senate passed a similar bill introduced by Harckham last year, but the State Assembly did not approve the legislation. When enacted, the legislation will benefit over 80,000 volunteer firefighters and their families across New York.

“We would like to thank Senator Harckham for his hard work in getting this important piece of legislation again passed in the State Senate,” said Edward Tase, Jr., president of the Firefighters Association of the State of New York (FASNY). “New York’s volunteer firefighters are exposed to dangerous chemicals while fighting fires that may cause lasting lung damage. FASNY wholeheartedly supports this legislation, which will take this long standing benefit and make it permanent, further strengthening this critical safety net for our volunteer firefighters. We are ready to work with the Assembly and we urge them to follow suit and pass this in their house.”

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