A Special Report
|Robert K. Sweeney, Chair • Sheldon Silver, Speaker • Fall 2006|
Since becoming Chairman of the Assembly Local Governments Committee, I have made volunteer emergency services a priority.
In recognition of the thousands of New Yorkers who generously dedicate their time as volunteer ambulance workers and firefighters, the Assembly, on May 8th, hosted the Third Annual Volunteer Firefighters and Ambulance Workers Day. As part of the Day’s festivities, the Assembly Speaker and the Majority Leader, as well as other Assembly Members, spoke to the assembled group of volunteers and fielded questions. Later in the day a thirteen-bill package passed the Assembly.
The 2006 Legislative Session also included the introduction and passage of a series of bills intended to encourage good governance of volunteer fire companies and districts. The legislation was drafted with the involvement of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York and the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs (all of whom subsequently issued memos in support for the legislation). A summary of that legislation, as well as the other legislation passed by the Assembly during the 2006 legislative session, is included in this newsletter.
As always, please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns.
2006 Summary of Emergency Services Legislation
Income Tax Credit
Authorizes active volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers to receive a $200 income tax credit. This credit will apply only if the volunteer does not receive a volunteer firefighter/ambulance real property tax exemption.
Fire Company Scholarship Eligibility
Extends provisions related to volunteer firefighter scholarships and changes the eligibility requirements to permit scholarship recipients to live outside the fifty mile radius requirement, under certain conditions.
Defense and Indemnification
Requires municipalities and fire districts to provide defense and indemnification for actions taken by volunteer firefighters, provided that the acts did not involve willful negligence or malfeasance.
Lung Disease Presumption
Establishes a presumption that death or disability from lung disease in volunteer firefighters results from actions taken in the line of duty.
Cost of Living Adjustment for Disabled Volunteer Firefighters
Provides a permanent cost of living adjustment to permanent total disability benefits provided to volunteer firefighters.
Continuation of Property Tax Exemption
Authorizes the extension of a volunteer firefighter/volunteer ambulance worker property tax exemption to un-remarried spouses of deceased 20 year members provided such deceased volunteer had been receiving the exemption prior to his or her death.
Funds for Fire Company Records Management
Authorizes fire and ambulance companies to be eligible for funding from the Local Government Records Management Fund.
Establishes a notification and testing procedure for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers who may have been exposed to HIV in the line of duty.
Publication of Firefighter Training Standards
This legislation does not establish any new training requirements, but instead requires the State Office of Fire Prevention and Control to promulgate rules and regulations governing firefighter training, including the process by which training hours are allocated to counties and a uniform procedure for requesting additional training hours.
Emergency Services Revolving Loan Cooperation
Encourages regional cooperation by authorizing applicants to apply jointly for funding from the Emergency Services Revolving Loan Fund and increases the loan amounts available to joint applicants.
Notification to Fire Districts of Tax Certiorari Proceedings
Provides fire districts with notice of tax certiorari filed on property located within the districts’ boundaries.
Requires the State Office of Fire Prevention and Control to make firefighter training available by video or computer to the maximum extent practicable.
Re-Certification of EMTs
Extends, for five years, a pilot program that allows continuing education recertification for emergency medical services technicians.
Reimbursement for Hazardous Material Remediation
Establishes a procedure to provide reimbursement to fire companies for costs associated with responding to spills of hazardous materials.
Mutual Aid Provisions for Volunteer Ambulance Companies
Clarifies provisions regarding mutual aid for volunteer ambulance companies to provide the same mutual aid liability provisions to volunteer ambulance companies as are currently provided to volunteer fire companies.
Free Thruway Access
Requires the Thruway Authority to develop a permit process or provide refunds to ensure free access for ambulances and fire trucks responding to an emergency.
Good Governance Provisions
The following legislation was drafted with the involvement of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York and the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs.
Expands the existing authorization of OSC to audit fire companies. This legislation would provide the Comptroller with the same examination authority as that provided to fire and other special districts.
Fire District Capital Reserve Funds
Requires additional public oversight of the money that fire districts can place in capital improvement reserve accounts by making the creation of reserve funds subject to voter approval.
Fire District Special Elections
Clarifies when special elections for fire districts can be held. This legislation would require fire districts to hold special elections on Tuesdays, provided that such days are not holidays. In addition, districts would be required to conduct and schedule elections in a way that maximizes voter participation.
Installation Dinner Expenses
Clarifies that the expenses of annual installation dinners would be required to be reasonable and aimed at minimizing taxpayer impact.
Out-of-State training would require a finding from the governing board (fire district or municipality) that such training is necessary and in the public interest and is not available within a reasonable distance and time period in the State. Following attendance, notification would be provided to the State Office of Fire Prevention and Control for inclusion in an annual report. The information will be used to improve in-state training programs.
Audits of Fire Districts and Companies
Based on the requirements for school districts enacted last year, this legislation would require fire districts and companies to undergo audits, require auditors to be selected following a competitive bidding process and limit the length of contracts with auditors.
Codes of Ethics
Adds fire districts and companies to the list of entities required to develop codes of ethics. The State Comptroller would be required to develop a model code.
Authorizes reimbursement for conference travel of municipal officers to include only costs incurred for official business and provides that such travel must be cost-effective and reasonable. In addition, the reimbursement rate for the mileage of fire district officers would be based on the federal reimbursement rate.
Statewide Public Hearing Day
Requires fire districts to hold public budget hearings on the third Tuesday in October and makes budget information more widely available. In addition to newspaper publication, budget hearing notices would be required to be posted on the fire and municipal websites, if available.
Availability of Fire District Hearing and Election Information
In addition to newspaper publication, hearing and election notices would be required to be posted on district and municipal websites, if available. Notices would also be required to contain detailed information about the subject of the hearing as well as information about polling hours.
Fire District Commissioner Dereliction of Duty
Requested by the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York, this legislation would authorize the removal of fire commissioners for dereliction of duty. Dereliction would include, but not be limited to, excessive unexcused absences from regularly scheduled meetings and would follow the existing removal process for commissioners.
Requested by the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York, this legislation would establish training requirements for fire district commissioners. The State Comptroller would approve the creation of a training program involving legal, fiduciary, financial, procurement and ethical responsibilities for fire district commissioners.
Codes of Ethics
Requires fire companies to develop codes of ethics and have certain fire officers disclose financial interests in contracts. Disclosure would be made to the individual’s immediate supervisor and to the governing board.
Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP) Reforms
A 2001 audit by the State Comptroller and recent Newsday stories have highlighted potential problems with the volunteer firefighter service award programs. The bills listed below are supported by FASNY and the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York and are intended to strengthen the program and protect volunteers:
A.10982 (Sweeney)/S.7876 (LaValle) – Chapter 262 of the Laws of 2006
A.10983 (Sweeney)/S.7877 (LaValle) – Chapter 620 of the Laws of 2006
A.10984 (Sweeney) – Passed Assembly /S.7875 (LaValle)
A.10985 (Sweeney)/S.7878 (LaValle) – Passed Both Houses
The Assembly’s 2006 Volunteer Firefighters and Ambulance Workers Day
As part of the Assembly’s 2006 Volunteer Firefighters and Ambulance Workers Day, the Assembly passed resolutions honoring the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY)’s Firefighter of the Year and the recipient of the EMS Leadership Award from the New York State Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Association, Inc.
Chief Richard J. Gimbl of the Holbrook Fire Department was designated as the 2006 Firefighter of the year for his dedicated service and heroic rescue of a trapped victim.
Mr. Robert Franz from the Huntington Community First Aid Squad was the recipient of the EMS Leadership Award from the New York State Volunteer Ambulance and Rescue Association, Inc. for his dedication and hard work on behalf of volunteer ambulance workers.
Both Gimbl and Franz were in attendance.
Above right: Richard Gimbl, 2006 FASNY Firefighter of the Year, and his wife accept congratulations from Assemblyman Robert Sweeney. Below right: Speaker Sheldon Silver and Assemblyman Bob Sweeney address the attendees.
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