I recently read the news about a benefit fundraiser being held for the widow of a Long Island volunteer firefighter who died in the line of duty when the floor he was on during a fire collapsed. The volunteer, only 43 year old, left behind a widow and a 19-year-old daughter. He had served his community for 17 years as a volunteer and in addition, worked for the Nassau County Public Workers Department. This tragedy once again reminds us of the dangers of the firefighting profession.
Most New York City residents are protected by a paid force of brave men and women who are employed by the City. The Fire Department of New York is the largest municipal fire department in the United States, employing more than 10,000 uniformed firefighters. I am proud to say that my brother Danny serves as a Lieutenant in the FDNY, and my brother Bob and my dad are both retired from the force.
There are still nine volunteer fire companies left in New York City that respond to calls in their neighborhoods; more than half of them are located in Queens – West Hamilton Beach, Broad Channel and the Rockaways. As these men and women are not compensated for their service to their communities, most of them have paying jobs elsewhere. However, they are still entitled to benefits if they are ever injured on the job. The New York State Workers’ Compensation Law provides benefits for those volunteers injured in the “line of duty” or engaged in activities pursuant to orders or authorization. These duties include, but are not limited to, participation in fire drills; travel to and from fire calls or authorized activities; firehouse duties; property inspections; attendance at fire instruction and training; and authorized drills, parades, funerals, reviews or tournaments. An “injury” includes any disablement of a volunteer firefighter that results from services performed in the line of duty and any disease that may arise from an injury.
Monetary benefits include payments for loss of earning capacity up to $400 per week, death benefits to surviving spouse and/or minor children up to $800 per week, and schedule loss-of-use awards based upon loss of function to a limb, loss of vision, loss of hearing, and facial disfigurements. Additional monetary awards are given to cover funeral expenses. Furthermore, volunteer members are entitled to receive necessary medical care for treatment and recovery from their disabilities. Notice must be given to the proper party within 90 days of the incident, and claims must be filed within two years of the accident or death.
In many instances the monetary awards are inadequate to properly compensate an injured volunteer or a surviving spouse or child of a hero. The fact that a fundraiser is even necessary for the family of the firefighter who was killed in Long Island is inconceivable. While it is clear that Volunteer Firefighter benefits will never truly compensate for those who are injured or killed on the job, the knowledge that there are benefits available will hopefully ease some of the financial strains for those in our community who serve. I saw a wonderful quote recently that said “volunteering is the ultimate exercise in democracy. You vote in elections once a year, but when you volunteer, you vote every day about the kind of community you want to live in.” So to those who serve, I am truly grateful, and to the family of fallen hero Joseph Sanford, Jr. – his sacrifice will never be forgotten.
Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.
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