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Malverne officials say firefighter 'Ropes Law' would boost taxes

The Village of Malverne board is grumbling about a state mandate requiring the purchase of personal safety ropes for firefighters, arguing the unfunded directive would amount to half of the 2 percent tax cap.

The so-called "Ropes Law" stemmed from a January 2005 tragedy in the Bronx, in which FDNY Lt. Curtis Meyran, 46, of Malverne, and firefighter John Bellew, 37, of upstate Pearl River, died after jumping from the fourth floor of an apartment building to escape the flames; four others suffered serious injuries.

The original statute, adopted in 2008, required the use of safety ropes and related gear. But state Sen. Jack M. Martins (R-Mineola) introduced legislation in June 2012 to amend the law to give fire departments the flexibility to equip their firefighters with what they considered the appropriate safety and evacuation equipment. The amended law, which exempts New York City, was signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and went into effect Aug. 31, 2012.

"The point wasn't to make it a state mandate, it was supposed to let each municipality make its decision about what their firefighters need," Martins said.

For Malverne, providing training and purchasing the escape ropes and harnesses for more than 65 members of its volunteer fire department initially would cost about $83,000. That mandate could result in nearly a 1 percent tax increase to the village, which has a budget of about $14 million, Deputy Mayor Joseph J. Hennessy said.

"For 100 years, we've been doing without it, but we haven't lost anyone in a fire," said Hennessy, adding the board plans to hold a public hearing March 20 to consider overriding the tax levy limit as a contingency.

Trustee Michael Bailey said the square-mile village, where the tallest buildings are three floors, was directed last month to get the ropes by the New York State Department of Labor's Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau.

State labor law requires that employers assess the risk of entrapment at elevations and provide emergency escape systems, defined as safety ropes and system components, and other code-compliant systems.

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