Firefighters put their lives on the line every day when they go out for a call. Anything can happen.

Even when they walk away from an incident, the consequences can be dire and long-lasting.

In addition to giving their time and energy and putting their lives at risk, volunteer firefighters keep taxes down.

According to a recent report, volunteer firefighters save New York State municipalities more than $3 billion annually.

Locally, the use of volunteers in fire departments in Orange and Rockland counties saved taxpayers more than $141 million and more than $55 million, respectively.

Given all they do for us, we need to make sure these men and women are covered in case they get sick. Recent studies show that firefighters are at significantly higher risk for many types of cancers than the general population due to their unique exposures.

Carcinogens released from products and other materials in burning buildings put firefighters at risk for a host of different types of cancers, including those affecting the digestive, hematological, lymphatic, urinary, prostate, neurological, breast and reproductive systems.

In light of these risks, firefighters are provided with equipment and prevention techniques to minimize their exposure to carcinogens.

Nonetheless, they’re still exposed at a much higher rate than most people. If they do fall ill, the current provisions for volunteer firefighters are woefully inadequate.

Currently, a volunteer firefighter who becomes disabled is eligible for only $600 per month in disability benefits. As a result, volunteer firefighters are left with thousands of dollars of out-of-pocket expenses for their medical care.

We need to do more to make sure that all firefighters get the treatment they need and deserve when diagnosed with cancer contracted from their unique exposures.

The Volunteer Firefighter Enhanced Cancer Disability Benefits Act, legislation that I’ve co-sponsored, will ensure volunteer firefighters will not be stuck with steep health care costs caused by their selfless bravery (A.711-B).

The bill is on the Governor’s desk; I urge him to do the right thing and sign it. These men and women risk everything for no reward and without a second thought; the least we can do is care for them in their time of need.

James Skoufis

Member of Assembly