NYS Exposed: Why doesn't NY offer the same protections to volunteer firefighters as full-time

January 09, 2017 11:27 PM

Volunteer firefighters, who risk their lives to keep us safe, get protected from all kinds of hazards except cancer.

When they ask the State of New York to do something about it, the state has always said, "No."

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It's about fairness: If we have a paid firefighter and a volunteer firefighter going into the same burning home, the paid firefighter knows he or she is going to be covered if they ever get cancer. The volunteers know they won't.

Royer Pfersick got diagnosed with bladder cancer 14 years ago, in 2002. 

"I live a pretty clean life," says Pfersick, "the only think I can think of that would be harmful would be exposure to the smokes and gases produced from firefighting."

The cancer came after he and Diana were married just one year.

"I was scared," says Diana Pfersick, wife. "I was scared that we had just gotten married and I was afraid I was going to lose him and that was very tough."

Pfersick has been a volunteer firefighter for 46 years. Now, if Royer were a paid firefighter, he would have been covered by special insurance. Because New York State knows, if you're a firefighter, you're more likely to get certain cancers. But because Royer is a volunteer, he and his family had to rely on their own insurance. The number of volunteer firefighters in New York like Royer is more than $105,000.

Brean: "What was the financial impact on you?"

Diana Pfersick: "I'm sure we're in the thousands of dollars that we spent between co-pays, between all the specialist visits."

Sixteen states extend special cancer coverage to volunteer firefighters including Alabama, California and New Hampshire. But when the bill to do it in New York got voted on last year: the Senate said "yes" and the Assembly said "no."

"I think we should look out for them as equally as we do for paid professionals," says Minority Leader Brian Kolb.

"I think we both do the same job, career and volunteer, and if we take the same risks we should get the same coverage," says Royer Pfersick.


Link to Assemblyman Bob Magnarelli, Chair of the NYS Assembly Local Government Committee

Link to Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, sponsor of the bill to extend cancer coverage to volunteer firefighters


Berkeley Brean

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