(The Center Square) – A New York state senator announced that he’s filed two bills aimed to help volunteer first responders who are coming to the aid of residents during the coronavirus pandemic.
State Sen. John E. Brooks, D-Seaford, wants to amend the benefit laws for volunteer firefighters and volunteer emergency medical personnel to include coverage for exposure to the COVID-19 virus. The law currently provides financial support for first responders who suffer injuries or die in the line of duty.
Senate Bill S8041A would extend those benefits, including the coverage of any test or treatment for any volunteer firefighter or ambulance worker exposed to the virus. Injuries sustained and deaths would also be covered, eliminating any uncertainty in the current law.
“The brave men and women who respond to fires, natural disasters, pandemics, and all manner of other catastrophes must be protected,” Brooks said in a news release. “These benefits make it possible for our volunteer first responders and their families to make it by when tragedy strikes. Therefore, they should be extended to include the current pandemic caused by the COVID-19 virus.”
A similar bill may soon be filed in the Assembly.
State Sen. Monica Martinez, D-Brentwood, a co-sponsor, said it makes sense to extend the protection to these first responders, especially since they take off their own time from their loved ones to serve their communities.
“When an emergency strikes in a community, such as a fire or medical crisis, our volunteers respond without hesitation to help – it is our duty as lawmakers to do the same for them during this current emergency," she said.
Brooks’ bill has bipartisan support, with six of the 14 co-sponsors being Republicans. It’s been assigned to the Senate Local Government Committee.
Besides covering those first responders for the coronavirus, Brooks filed another bill, Senate Bill S8086, that would increase the size of their benefits. It, too, has been assigned to the Local Government Committee.
Among the increases the bill calls for include giving volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers who suffer permanent total disabilities in the line of duty an increase in their weekly benefit from $600 to $1,200. Those whose total disability is temporary as well as those whose partial disability is permanent would go from $400 to $800 per week.
Brooks said most of the benefits haven’t been increased in more than 20 years.
“These are people who run in to burning buildings, respond to natural disasters, and otherwise take great risks to themselves in performing their duties to society,” he said. “Now, of course, their priority is responding to a global pandemic. In cases like these, the volunteer benefits law is there to provide aid in many ways, including healthcare, wage compensation, and more.”