WHEATFIELD – The state association representing volunteer firefighters saw some legislative success in the last year, most significantly in getting an income tax exemption for pension-type payouts included as part of the new state budget.
The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, which held an outreach program on its legislative efforts Sunday at the St. Johnsburg Fire Co., welcomed the change.
Under the new rules, payments from a volunteer fire company’s “length of service award program” received after a person reaches the age of 59½ will no longer be subject to state income taxes.
It’s something the association has been working on for three years, and one of an array of issues that are part of an effort to recruit and retain more volunteer firefighters across the region and the state.
“It’s the law now, so that’s a good thing,” Robin Schott, the group’s legislative committee chair, told a couple dozen local volunteer fire company representatives in the Ward Road hall.
The association is continuing to work with state lawmakers on other important issues, Schott said.
FASNY and five other state firefighting organizations have identified seven other issues as legislative priorities for this year:
• Prohibiting all three levels of sex offenders from becoming volunteer firefighters.
• Prohibiting use of chemical flame retardants on residential upholstered furniture.
• Requiring the use of seatbelts by volunteer firefighters.
• Allowing ambulance services run by volunteer fire departments to charge for services rendered. Presently, any ambulance service run through a fire department is prohibited from charging patients for its services.
• Raising the fine for property owners who make illegal modifications to multifamily dwellings, which the association says put residents and firefighters at risk.
• Enacting a more “rigorous” process to review the proposed dissolution of fire districts. A 2009 law makes it easier for fire districts to be dissolved. “We just need to make sure there’s a due process,” Schott said.
• Increasing disability payments for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers.
The association is also pushing for expanded cancer coverage for sick volunteer firefighters. At present, the only cancer treatment that’s covered is for lung cancer, while professional firefighters have an array of cancers covered, Schott said.
The group, which is represented by the Albany lobbying firm DKC Government Affairs, also hopes to see progress on two proposed laws that were vetoed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo last year.
The first would offer job protection to volunteer firefighters who assist when states of emergency are declared around the state.
The other would provide coverage under the Volunteer Firefighters’ Benefits Law for volunteer firefighters or ambulance workers who are injured when assisting victims while outside of their geographical jurisdiction.