Volunteer Firefighters and Ambulance Workers Now Qualify for Health Insurance

By Assemblyman Will Barclay (R—Pulaski)

I was pleased to support a new law this year that gives volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers access to healthcare.  The law will take effect on Jan. 17, 2009.

In the last decade, it has become harder and harder for volunteer fire departments to maintain their core of volunteers, largely because there has been a reduction in the number of young people joining the volunteer fire service.  According to a report issued by the National Volunteer Fire Council, the number of firefighters in the U.S. has declined by 5 to 10 percent since 1993.

In 2006, according to the National Fire Protection Association, 54.3 percent of volunteer firefighters in departments protecting communities of 24,999 or fewer people were under the age of 40, compared with 65.5 percent in 1987.  In communities of 2,500 or fewer (which are almost exclusively protected by volunteer departments), 50 percent of all firefighters were under the age of 40 in 2006, compared with 64.2 percent in 1987.

I’ve heard from a number of municipalities and fire departments who are concerned about the dwindling amount of volunteers.  In some cases, towns and municipalities have been forced to pay firefighters and ambulance workers or go without as many hands to help residents in an emergency.  This legislation will help save taxpayers money and, hopefully, bring back and attract more volunteers.  The health insurance is of no cost to the state, as volunteers will pay the enrollment fees and deductibles through their respective municipalities.

Volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers provide critical services that New York State citizens require. These volunteers are especially critical in counties like Oswego and Onondaga counties, where most local governments are unable to afford paid emergency service personnel.

In addition to their time on duty, volunteer emergency service workers must meet ever-increasing training requirements, especially those who provide advanced life support services. They often must spend time away from their family, which often places a strain on their professional and personal lives.

I’m pleased to help recognize and reward the critical role emergency services volunteers have in our communities.  By allowing volunteer fire and ambulance companies to access the health insurance plans offered to municipal employees, volunteers might come back or new members will be added to the ranks.  Health insurance is a tangible benefit that fire and ambulance companies can utilize to retain existing personnel and to attract new recruits.

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