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Op-Ed: Risking it all for $27/day

BY STEVE CASSIDY

When the FDNY began its efforts to recruit New York City firefighter candidates back in 2011, it sold them on the merits of “the best job in the world has the best benefits in the world.” Now, several years later, it appears that the city failed to tell these prospective first responders the truth.

Since 2013, the city has hired more than 1,400 new FDNY firefighters, most of whom don’t have disability benefits. What the city recruitment posters should have read in 2011 was, “Don’t get hurt in the line of duty or else you and your family will be in trouble!”

Here’s why: If any probationary (rookie) firefighters hired by the FDNY since January 2013 are seriously injured, paralyzed or permanently disabled on the job, the approximate value of their disability protection amounts to only about $27/day.

This all began when Governor David Paterson vetoed the New York City firefighter and police Tier II extender bill in June 2009, forcing all future FDNY and NYPD hires into Tier III, which has no real disability benefits. Today virtually every firefighter and police officer in New York State has real disability benefits, except for those in the FDNY and NYPD.

It is wholly unacceptable for newly hired city firefighters to face the same dangers as fellow veteran firefighters but only be protected to the sum of $27/day, or less than $190 per week, if they’re seriously injured.

It’s already a highly dangerous profession and firefighters need to be 100 percent focused on their responsibilities in a fire/emergency situation and not distracted with “what if” concerns about who is going to take care of their family if they’re seriously injured. Having this lingering concern — especially among firefighters who are married or have children to provide for — clearly jeopardizes public safety, and simply doesn’t serve taxpayers’ interests.

How can the city demand new hires enter a burning building, or conduct a dangerous rescue or take other risks, while denying them the same disability protections?

I believe most New Yorkers will stand united with New York City’s firefighters to declare that it is immoral for the city to ask the young men and women of the FDNY to risk their life and health without a safety net. What’s more, the public is best served when every firefighter is solely focused on their job, because they know that if they are seriously injured in the line of duty, they will be taken care of.

The Uniformed Firefighters Association is advocating and fighting for necessary corrective legislation that requires the support of a majority of the New York City Council and passage of legislation via the state Assembly and Senate and signed into law by the governor.

What legislation would do is guarantee that each of our city’s firefighters and police officers who risk their lives would have similar disability protections that more senior New York City firefighters and other first responders across the state are granted.

New Yorkers should want and expect a fire department with members who will never have to think twice about if their family would be cared for if they were permanently disabled. New Yorkers should join with firefighters and call upon city and state legislators to take action and correct this serious problem.

Steve Cassidy is president of the Uniformed Firefighters Association.

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