All 250 of Valley Stream’s firefighters will be eligible for cancer coverage when New York States Volunteer Firefighter Enhanced Cancer Disability Law goes into effect on Jan. 1.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the bill into law in October 2017, when he was joined by members of the state Firemen’s Association, the Association of Fire Chiefs and the Association of Fire Districts. “With this measure, we will provide these courageous New Yorkers the protections they need and the peace of mind they deserve,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Valley Stream Chief Jason Croak said he supported the measure. “I think we should be covered,” he said. “We deal with the day-to-day carcinogens and toxins.”
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety, firefighters have a 9 percent higher risk of being diagnosed with cancer and a 14 percent higher risk of dying from cancer than the general United States population. The cancers most responsible for the higher risk were respiratory, gastrointestinal and kidney.
Under the Cancer Bill, as it is known colloquially, volunteer firefighters will receive monetary assistance if they are diagnosed with cancer. To be eligible for the benefit, a volunteer firefighter must have served as an interior firefighter for five years, must have successfully passed a physical examination upon entering the fire department and have been diagnosed with cancer.
If a firefighter meets those requirements, he or she is eligible for one of three benefits. The first is a lump-sum benefit that provides a payout for diagnosis based on the severity of the diagnosis, the second is for a volunteer firefighter who became completely disabled, in which case he or she would be eligible for a monthly benefit of $1,500 for up to 36 consecutive months and the final option is in the case of death, a firefighter’s family will be eligible for an accidental death benefit of $50,000. The benefits are not subject to New York State income tax, and a firefighter can keep their coverage for up to five years after they leave the service, at which point a firefighter could pay the premiums associated with the disability insurance to continue his or her coverage.
Individual fire districts or municipalities that oversee the fire departments, however, have to figure out how to fund the coverage. In November, the Village of Valley Stream Board of Trustees approved a budget transfer of almost $27,000 to pay for the mandate. Mayor Ed Fare said that funding for the mandate will appear as a line item in next year’s budget.