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Chairman’s Corner: Firefighters cancer insurance

October 10, 2018 12:16 pm Updated: October 10, 2018 12:23 pm


I’m happy to say that Columbia County has good news for volunteer firefighters serving their local fire companies.

At the September meeting of the county Board of Supervisors, Columbia County became first in the state to adopt the NYS Volunteer Firefighter Cancer Benefit Program. The law, formally known as GML 205-CC, is scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2019. At this time, Georgia is the only other state that has passed a similar law.

In Columbia County, the benefit program will be budget-neutral thanks to a formula devised by county Emergency Medical Services Coordinator and Treasurer P.J. Keeler. Savings in workers’ compensation expenses, primarily realized through the sale of the Pine Haven Nursing Home, will provide the funding.

Because of the annual premiums involved in the coverage, the new law would most certainly have proven a financial strain on the budgets of individual companies. While that issue has been alleviated through the manner in which it will be funded, individual fire companies will hold that company’s policy and be responsible for administering the program.

For current volunteer firefighters to qualify for the insurance coverage on the January 1 date, it will be necessary to have served at least five years as an interior firefighter. Further, upon entrance into the volunteer service, the firefighter must have successfully passed a physical examination that revealed no evidence of cancer.

Why the five year requirement? According to information developed by the aforementioned associations, with numerous studies relating cancer to firefighting undertaken over the years, those studies have only looked at career, interior-rated firefighters. Working with leading experts on occupational cancer, it was determined that exposure to a toxin would generally take at least five years before the diagnosis of a blood form of cancer would be made.

There are several benefit levels, contingent on the severity of the specific cancer.

Taking these and other factors into account, including how to tailor an insurance policy that would hold up legally and do the job it was designed to do, yielded the approved law.

This legislation, Keeler pointed out, was for the most part borne out of a recognition of the elevated incident of cancer among firefighters who responded to the 9/11 tragedy.

The Firemen’s Association of the State of New York, the Association of Fire Districts of the State of New York, the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs, and the New York State Association of Counties sponsored the program.

This insurance is another reminder of the dangers to firefighting, and urge everyone to celebrate our volunteer firefighters – they are there for us at times that are frequently the worst in our lives.

And remember, donations are always welcome and participation in fundraising activities –spaghetti dinners, carnivals, pancake breakfasts – put on by your local fire company is encouraged.

For those who are interested in becoming a volunteer firefighter, yes, there are risks, but the satisfaction derived from serving your community in this crucial role runs deep.

Reach Matt Murell at