Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation on Monday requiring volunteer firefighter applicants to submit to background checks to determine whether they have been convicted of any sexual offenses.
The bill also allows departments to screen current volunteers for such offenses and to terminate those with convictions on their records, and shields municipalities from potential lawsuits from volunteers who they discover are convicted sex offenders.
“It is truly sad that in this day in age, these are the issues we have to consider, even in our fire departments,” said Chief Fred Senti III of the Lakeview Fire Department. “I wholeheartedly agree [with] expanded background checks for any person, joining any organization, potentially looking to cause harm to another, in any matter.”
Volunteer firefighters frequently work around vulnerable people, including children.
According to a source in Cuomo’s office, the bill grew out of a desire by the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York to screen new applicants more thoroughly, and to have the authority to terminate anyone who had been convicted of a sexual offense.
Senti said that one of the things his department worries about most is an arson conviction, and those and other offenses can be uncovered through background checks, which have been expanded into other areas, including burglary, robbery and violent crimes. Now, information on sexual offenses will be readily available as well. “The last thing we as first responders ever want,” Senti said, “is the public subjected to a person who commits any of these heinous acts. Thankfully, that's not a problem we have had here."
“Firefighters are often in a position where they serve and protect vulnerable members of their communities — which is why it is imperative that our volunteer firefighter organizations are staffed with highly qualified and dedicated individuals,” Cuomo said. “By allowing these groups to screen for sexual offenders and remove any individuals who have been convicted of sexual offenses, we are supporting some of our most important local volunteer groups and taking a strong step toward having safer communities across the state.”
Dave Gildea, public relations officer for the Malverne Fire Department, said “As a department, we always want to ensure that we have the strongest candidates, and anything that helps us recruit stronger candidates is great for us and helps us continue to build a