Volunteer firefighters are speaking out about the issues they face, and what they want to see change. They gathered Saturday in Canandaigua to discuss the fire service’s 2023 legislative priorities.
Currently, volunteer firefighters who are injured in the line of duty receive less compensation than other workers do. So the Firefighters Association of the State of New York is working to change that.
“Volunteer firefighters are covered under the Volunteer Firefighter Benefit Law,” said Association Secretary John D’Alessandro. “So, if we should get hurt in the line of duty, like break a bone on a call, we would be covered. Our workers compensation would be covered under that. If you worked in a factory and you got hurt, you would be covered by workers comp. Currently, the amount of money that is given to a volunteer firefighter who gets hurt on the job is less than a worker under workers comp would get. We just want to get the same amount in terms of compensation if we get hurt while being a volunteer firefighter.”
D’Alessandro said things are getting worse for emergency responders before they’re getting better, and that needs to change.
“We have less people, more calls, and a more complex mission,” he said. “We’re being sent outside our own communities to provide fire and emergency response. And you can see how that becomes a terrible cycle. You have less people to do more work. It puts an extra hard burden on those people. They tend to burn out quicker and leave the volunteer fire service.”
He said 75-80% of all the fire and emergency response in New York is done by volunteers.
“People see Chicago Fire and they drive by their local fire house and think there’s a crew of paid career firefighters there,” he added. “But the exact opposite is true. Most communities depend on volunteer firefighters and EMS to meet their needs.”
They’re also working to Amend the Mental Hygiene Law in Relation to the “First Responder Peer Support Program Act.” According to FASNY, a 2017 study found that more firefighters and police officers died by suicide than in the line of duty. The study also found that first responders, including EMS, are at an increased risk for mental illnesses such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“It’s an unfortunate thing that goes along with the job of being a firefighter or a law enforcement officer, or an emergency medical person,” D’Alessandro said. “We see things that most people don’t see. We interact with our friends, family and neighbors on some of the worst days they have. And it builds up. Even the most seasoned, hardened firefighter. It gets to you. It takes its toll. So it’s an area that’s getting a lot more attention now thankfully. This legislation is a solid initial step toward having those mechanisms available to first responders when they need them.”
For more information on FASNY’s legislative program, click here.
Rebecca is a veteran multimedia journalist serving as one of our core reporters in the Finger Lakes region. She is responsible for telling stories that matter to every day Upstate New Yorkers. Have a question or lead? Send it to [email protected].