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Legislature OKs cancer benefits for volunteer firefighters

ALBANY — Volunteer firefighters facing an increased risk of contact with carcinogens while fighting fires inside buildings would get health, disability and death benefits under a bill passed this week by the State Legislature.

The Volunteer Firefighter Enhanced Cancer Disability Act would be funded by local taxpayers. The bill now goes to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to be signed into law or vetoed.

Qualified firefighters diagnosed with cancer would be eligible for a $6,250 to $25,000 lump sum payment, depending on the diagnosis.

Firefighters disabled because of cancer may receive up to $1,500 a month for 36 months. The death benefit would $50,000.

To be eligible, firefighters would have to have served at least five years as an “interior firefighter” and must have had a physical exam that was cancer-free before he or she became a volunteer firefighter.

“Volunteer firefighters now have access to critical health care services available to their paid counterparts,” said Assembly Republican leader Brian Kolb (R-Canandaigua), who has sought the bill for five years. “Expanding the benefits these first responders can receive will result in better care and treatment, and hopefully save lives.”

The bill was spurred by studies that show firefighters are contracting cancer after years of fighting fires insides structures where materials containing carcinogens are ablaze.

“Each time they fight a fire, they are exposed to toxins that increase their risk of developing cancer,” said Sen. Elaine Phillips (R-Manhasset), who co-sponsored the bill.

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