NYS Assemblyman Steve Stern and Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine Announce New Initiatives to Support Volunteer First Responders

Legislative & funding package aims to serve our local heroes who serve all of us

Suffolk County, NY New York State Assemblyman Steve Stern and Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine were joined by local elected leaders and emergency responders to announce a new package of initiatives from New York State in support of volunteer first responders.

“Keeping our families and neighborhoods safe is always my top priority,” said Assemblyman Stern. “That’s why I am so proud to deliver critical funding and pass historic legislative initiatives for our volunteer first responders so that our local heroes continue to have the support and resources they need to serve our communities with distinction and ensure their health, safety and well-being.”

“We often take for granted the rapid response of the men and women in our fire and ambulance departments, and their importance in the fabric of our communities,” said County Executive Romaine. “Suffolk County is home to more than 13,000 active volunteer first responders and we are fully committed to providing our hometown heroes with the necessary support to protect our communities.”

New York State’s groundbreaking volunteer first responder package focuses on the following:

  • Firefighter Mental Health
  • Vital Equipment To Keep Us Safe
  • Thank You For Your Service With Financial Security
  • Recruitment And Retention Of Volunteers

Historic Investments to Expand Mental Health Services for First Responders

The highly successful peer-to-peer model utilized by the Joseph P. Dwyer Program for veterans lends itself to other mental health related support services, including those for volunteer first responders, who put their lives on the line daily to ensure our safety. Unfortunately, these heroes often endure traumatic stress because of their on-the-job experiences.

To address this important issue, Assemblyman Stern secured funding in the last two enacted New York State budgets for the non-profit organization Unconditional Support to help fund a pilot program to mitigate the impacts of traumatic stress on volunteer first responders. This innovative initiative, which is incredibly timely given the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on our emergency responders, provides a host of services including preventative mental health care, peer- to-peer training, and assistance and support services for those suffering from traumatic stress related to the performance of their duties.

“Our volunteer first responders put their lives and personal safety on the line every day for our community and they deserve our support,” said Steve Williams, founder of Unconditional Support. “These incidents can be very traumatic and often, first responders are hesitant to seek help. Assemblyman Stern delivered on his promise to secure funding for a pilot program on Long Island to address the mental health challenges first responders face and hopefully, to expand this critical support statewide.”

The recently adopted New York State budget also includes $2 million for first responder suicide prevention efforts, which will supplement the critically important services being offered by Unconditional Support.

Funding for Vital Emergency Response Equipment to Keep Our Communities Safe

Throughout his tenure, Assemblyman Stern has provided essential funding to our local fire departments and ambulance squads for a host of vital equipment purchases and infrastructure improvements including:

  • Communications Systems Upgrades
  • New Emergency Vehicles
  • Headquarter Renovations and Energy Upgrades
  • Life-Saving Emergency Medical Equipment

“Assemblyman Stern always delivers for our local first responders,” said Dix Hills Fire District Commissioner Todd Cohen. “The funding he’s secured from New York State has allowed us to upgrade communications systems, replace bailout equipment and, most recently, purchase a rehab unit, which is a specially equipped truck that responds to major fires or emergencies where the health and safety of the firefighters operating on the scene may be jeopardized by the nature or duration of the incident. This unit will aid in reducing injuries and provide safety for all firefighters and first responders at the scene of local emergencies. We thank the Assemblyman for his continued unwavering support.”

State officials are also advocating for passage of the “Public Safety Investment Act” (Bill A8240/ S7730), which would provide $150 million in grants to local fire departments for emergency response equipment purchases.

“As a four-decade Deer Park firefighter, retired FDNY lieutenant and former chair of the Legislature’s Public Safety committee, I know how critically important it is for our volunteer fire departments to have all of the financial and emotional resources and support they need to ensure they can keep the community and themselves safe and protected,” said Suffolk County Legislator Tom Donnelly. “Upgrading and replacing old equipment, investing in training to improve response and capability, and recognizing the need to address potential mental health concerns with our first-line personnel not only improve safety, but also play major roles in both retaining current volunteers and encouraging others to join. I applaud Assemblyman Stern’s continued commitment to keeping our volunteer fire force well-trained, well-equipped, and mentally ready as they selflessly put themselves in harm’s way to serve and protect our residents at a moments’ notice.”

Legislation Providing Financial Security for Volunteer Firefighters & Ambulance Workers

Our hometown heroes are volunteers who serve without compensation, which is why it is imperative that we thank them for their service with other forms of financial security. To that end, Assemblyman Stern recently sponsored and passed several legislative initiatives to boost the finances of our first responders, including:

  • Legislation increasing the number of years of service that volunteer firefighters or ambulance workers may receive contributions in Length of Service Awards Programs (LOSAP), which provide municipally funded pension-like benefits to active volunteer responders (Chapter 400 of 2021 and Chapter 654 of 2022)
  • Legislation providing fire EMS personnel employed by Suffolk County Fire Districts with an enhanced pension that offers a 25-year retirement option (Chapter 714 of 2023)

“Assemblyman Stern has always been a supporter of firefighters and we thank him for passing the 25-year retirement bill for our fire district EMS workers,” said William Theis from the Long Island Firefighters Legislative Committee.

In addition, other important measures to provide financial security for volunteer first responders are pending in the State Legislature including:

  • Legislation to increase the volunteer firefighters’ and ambulance workers' personal income tax credit from $200 to $800 for eligible individuals and from $400 to $1600 for eligible married joint filers (Bill A7524-A / S7286-A)
  • Legislation to ensure that the spouses of volunteer first responders killed in the line of duty continue receiving all the eligible tax exemptions to which they are entitled (Bill # Pending)

Critical Resources for the Recruitment & Retention of Volunteers Emergency Responders

There are 20,000 less volunteer firefighters today than there were in New York State 20 years ago. Volunteer fire departments are struggling to recruit new members and retain existing ones, a challenge further compounded by increased operational responsibilities beyond fire protection to include vehicle accidents, medical emergencies, hazardous material spills, and weather-related rescue operations. The training necessary to perform these responsibilities safely and effectively has increased as has the time commitments expected of a volunteer.

The lack of available volunteer firefighters across the state has real public safety impacts - jeopardizing the protection of people and property in our local communities. New York State is taking aggressive action to address this serious issue, including:

  • Increased statewide funding and grant opportunities for local departments to offset the costs associated with volunteer firefighting and emergency services recruitment and retention
  • A newly created Volunteer Firefighter Training Stipend Program, which will provide volunteer firefighters who complete training courses offered by the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control with payments ranging between $500 and $1,200, depending on the course.

“Without a dedicated force of emergency service personnel, Long Island would be a much more expensive and less safe place to live,” said New York State Assemblyman Joseph DeStefano, a Medford Fire Department Commissioner and 40-plus-year fire services volunteer. “Doing everything we can to make sure fire departments and ambulance companies can recruit and retain emergency workers must be a top priority. Bills have been submitted in Albany that will go a long way toward maintaining our emergency system at the levels we need, and you can count me as a strong supporter of every one of them.”

“Today is an exciting day in Suffolk County as we stand here recognizing and honoring our volunteer fire fighter community - individuals who prioritize the safety of our neighbors and who sacrifice time with their families to serve in their local fire departments,” said Suffolk County Legislator Rebecca Sanin. “I applaud Assemblyman Stern's leadership. We must do everything that we can to support our volunteer firefighters, including providing resources that address the trauma associated with responding to devastating fires and engaging in innovative strategies to support recruitment and retention in manner that honors their leadership and sacrifice.”

“We must ensure that our volunteer first responders always have access to essential health benefits, life-saving equipment, financial security and recruitment resources,” said Assemblyman Stern. “I thank my colleagues for supporting this crucial legislative package and look forward to continuing to bring home our fair share from Albany for the heroes of our community.”