By Senator Patty Ritchie
Imagine, if every day when you left to go to work, there was a possibility you wouldn’t come home. For the thousands of men and women across New York State who are emergency responders, this is a reality.
This time of year, I often think of Garrett Loomis. Garrett began his firefighter career at the age of 18; following in the footsteps of his grandfather, father and brother. He eventually rose to serve Jefferson County as the Assistant Fire Chief of the Sackets Harbor Volunteer Fire Department and as a member of the Firefighters Local F-105, Ft. Drum Fire and Emergency Services.
Two years ago, at the age of 26, Garrett was killed while on the scene of a silo fire. His death left a major hole in the small community of Sackets Harbor, and sent shockwaves through the ranks of emergency responders.
Since then, people across the state have honored Garrett’s bravery and sacrifice with countless memorials and events. Last year, his name was added to the New York State Fallen Firefighter’s Memorial in Albany, and recognized during the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation memorial service in Maryland. In that same year, Ft. Drum honored Garrett’s sacrifice by naming their new fire station in his honor. Most recently, an antique pump house in Sackets Harbor was dedicated in his memory.
As we remember emergency responders like Garrett Loomis, there are efforts taking place across the state to prevent tragedies like this from happening again. Over the weekend, Jefferson Community College presented the Garrett Loomis Fire Safety and Educational Series. Emergency responders from across the region were invited to attend the free seminar, to learn how to safely fight silo fires.
The free seminar was made possible through the Northern New York Community Foundation, and the Garrett Loomis Firefighters Fund, which was established to support and promote the education and training of emergency responders, who are called to emergencies in agricultural settings.
I’m doing my part in Albany too, to protect emergency responders. About this time last year, I introduced “Mark’s Law,” a bill which would apply the stiffest penalty allowed by law—life imprisonment without the possibility of parole—for the murder of an emergency first responder.
The bill was introduced in memory of another North Country volunteer who sacrificed his life in the line of duty. Mark Davis, a Jefferson County emergency medical technician, was shot and killed while responding to a call for help in Cape Vincent in 2009.
The bill amends the Penal Law to include emergency responders, emergency medical technicians, firefighters, volunteer firefighters, ambulance drivers, paramedics, physicians or nurses involved in a first response team as victims of first degree murder. Right now, that penalty is reserved for the murder of police officers, peace officers, uniformed court officers, parole officers, probation officers, employees of the division of youth, and corrections officers.
Through increased training for emergency responders and legislation like “Mark’s Law,” it is my hope that we can provide emergency responders with the safeguards necessary for them to do their job safely and efficiently. By protecting our emergency responders and remembering the sacrifices of Garrett Loomis, Mark Davis and others like them, we honor all the heroes who put their lives on the line to ensure we stay safe each and every day.