Our volunteer firefighters and emergency medical service (EMS) not only risk their lives to protect our homes, property, and well-being, but they also sacrifice time with their own families and friends, forgo time that could be spent on hobbies or fixing up their homes or working overtime. They give of themselves and in return they ask nothing, and that truly is heroic.
However during the last several years as our world has changed recruitment has become challenging for volunteer fire companies. This is crucial to our public safety – not to mention saving taxpayer dollars – and that’s why I have been an ardent supporter and promoter of them over the years.
But, I am also working hard to changing our state’s culture of appreciation for our volunteers as well. I am proudly sponsoring new legislation that will create a volunteer firefighter and EMS scholarship program (A.4272).
My bill is a student loan forgiveness program utilizing components of the existing Excelsior Scholarship program, aimed at retaining graduates in New York State, so long as volunteer firefighters or EMTs meet a set of standards that include attending at least 25 percent of their company’s annual emergency calls and serve for a minimum of eight years.
Similar to other high-needs job recruitment and retention loan forgiveness plans for nurses, teachers and other important jobs, my plan would provide volunteer firefighters and EMTs with forgiveness of their student loans from private or public institutions of higher learning within New York State, and also adds instruction at trade or vocational schools.
This will help spur recruitment and retain more volunteers in our firefighting and emergency medical fields, but also enable volunteers to begin their post-graduate lives on more financially-sound footing. Without the worries of student debt, they can pursue careers they are passionate about, save for a home, better afford a family, and simply enjoy life more – something they deserve after giving so much to our community.
Because I am so passionate about this bill, I called on the full state Assembly to vote on it through a rare legislative maneuver called a motion to discharge. Though the Assembly voted the measure down on procedural grounds, my tactic was successful because it captured the Assembly’s attention and key members of both parties came up to me immediately expressing support. I will continue working with these members to bring this matter forward again for a vote.
I am hopeful that like so many other measures I have delivered on for Western New York – and particularly for our volunteer firefighters (like expending cancer coverage, creating a new task force, and this year with correcting a loophole to allow for volunteer ambulatory billing that was crucial to public safety particularly in small and rural communities) – that we can also get this measure enacted too.
Thank you to everyone who volunteers, and I challenge anyone looking to get more involved to go to www.fireinyou.org to learn about the many benefits of becoming a volunteer firefighter or EMT.