New Law Protects Benefits for Volunteer Firefighters, EMS During COVID-19

Michael Heller
Firefighters and EMS volunteers do not have to worry about losing pension-like benefits during COVID-19, thanks to new legislation.

A law that protects volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers’ benefit program during the COVID-19 outbreak has been signed into law.

Assemblyman Fred Thiele introduced the law that will ensure volunteer emergency workers will receive adequate credits toward their Length of Service Award programs during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed it into law on June 17.

These pension-like programs are used to recruit and retain fire department and ambulance agency volunteers for serving their communities. These volunteers earn the benefits by responding to calls and attending meetings and training throughout the year. A minimum of 50 total points is required.

During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, while there was no lack of COVID-19 calls to respond to, some volunteers were limited in the number of calls they could respond to because of safety protocols put in place to keep crews to a minimum. Some volunteers are also more vulnerable to the virus and they were advised not to respond. Also, many meetings and trainings were canceled as large groups could not meet and social distancing could not be practiced.

While these were all necessary precautions, the cancellations and policies left some volunteers worried they would not earn the necessary LOSAP credits in 2020.

Assemblyman Thiele and Senator Todd Kaminsky sponsored the bill that will allow active volunteers to earn up to five points per month during the COVID-19 pandemic, and establish a flexible and more equitable system by authorizing departments to determine emergency response requirements for certain LOSAP participants.

“Volunteer fire and ambulance workers have been rightfully lauded as some of the heroes of the COVID-19 outbreak, tirelessly working to serve our communities, while selflessly putting their own safety at risk in order to do so,” Thiele said. “We owe them a debt of gratitude and must ensure that among their many sacrifices during this time, their LOSAP awards are not jeopardized.”

East Hampton Fire Department Chief Gerard Turza Jr. said his members have had concerns about losing LOSAP and it came up as a topic of conversation the night before the bill was signed. “We greatly appreciate the work of Assemblyman Thiele and also Senator Kaminsky for their efforts to get this legislation passed. It’s giving our volunteers peace of mind as they’ve been providing invaluable services to the community while adapting to sometimes restrictive guidelines during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Springs Fire Chief Darrin Downs said the legislation was necessary. “During this crisis many older members of members with underlying health concerns were requested to stay home as they were more prone to contracting the virus. So any help the state is willing to give to help them keep their LOSAP points and status is great.”

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