Bill would help North Country fire departments recover $3 million in costs

New York

New York is the only state in the country where volunteer fire departments are not authorized to bill for care given to patients on the way to the hospital. In Altoona, that uncompensated care accounts for more than two-thirds of the fire department’s annual budget.

“That leaves a third of our operating budget to maintain a fire house, to heat a fire house, to provide fuel to the rigs at our station,” said Board of Fire Commissioner Ryan Blondo. “Every year, we ask our fire service to do with less.”

On Thursday, firefighters from across New York gathered with Assemblyman Billy Jones to push for the passage of the Fair Play Ambulance Cost Recovery Act, which would bring more than $3 million to North Country fire districts.

It’s something New York firefighters have been pushing for more than a decade.

“Many of us fear that someday that could happen, that there will be no one to respond to our loved ones, respond to our neighbors in need,” Jones said. “This is a lifesaving bill — it’s just that simple.”

At one time, there were close to 120,000 volunteer firefighters in New York. Now, only 80,000 men and women make up that group. Departments say they’re losing around 8 percent of firefighters each year.

“The pool of responders is shrinking all the time,” said Joseph Finnegan, past president of the Firemen’s Association of the state of New York.

The pandemic has also complicated operations, requiring more cleaning and allowing ambulances to sit empty following COVID-related calls.

“Everyone calls us heroes, we’re just people who care about our friends and neighbors and we do our job,” said Donald Corkery said. “Our friends in government, we want you to pass this bill and we want you to be the heroes this time.”

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