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Cancer coverage bill for NYS firefighters becomes law

The legislation will give health benefits to thousands of first responders suffering from life-threatening disease

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SEAFORD, L.I. — New York State's volunteer firefighters will be eligible for health benefits that treat life-threatening cancers starting Jan. 1 under a newly passed law.

"This year we passed an initial version, revised it. It was passed unanimously by both houses, and the governor acted on it to give the protection that firefighters need," Long Island firefighter Sen. John Brooks said.

Brooks has been a volunteer firefighter in Seaford, Long Island since 1969 and he believes the legislation is long overdue.

There are about 96,000 volunteer firefighters in New York State, many of them exposed to dangerous toxins in the line of duty every day.

Under the new legislation, firefighters who come down with certain cancers — including lung, prostate, and breast cancer — will automatically be eligible for health benefits under a few conditions: Their physical exam can’t show any evidence of cancer upon entering the volunteer fire department, they have to have at least five years of service and have to be active members of a fire department or within five years of being an active volunteer firefighter.

Benefits include a lump sum of $25,000 for firefighters that contract certain cancers, 36 months of disability with benefits at $1,500 per month if they are unable to work and a $50,000 death benefit for their families should they succumb to cancer.

"Men and women across the state are serving their communities, they go at great risk, and they have for an extended amount of time. This helps them and their families if they should, unfortunately, come down with one of these diseases," Sen. Brooks said.

Gov. Cuomo's office says investments have also been made to upgrade the state fire academy which provides training to first responders. Since 2011, the governor has invested $3 million to improve the facility.

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