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Firefighter background checks urged

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther appeared with Sen. John Bonacic, to her left, and local emergency responders at a news conference on July 23 in Rock Hill.
TRR photo by Fritz Mayer

By Fritz Mayer
July 30, 2014

ROCK HILL, NY — In New York State, firefighters are allowed to check the background of potential volunteer firefighters for arson convictions, but are not allowed to check for convictions of sexual offences.

Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and Sen. John Bonacic would like to change that. They staged a news conference on July 23 outside of the firehouse in Rock Hill to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign legislation recently passed by both houses of the legislature that would change the law.

Bonacic said, “There are 93,000 volunteer firefighters in the State of New York. What this legislation would do is protect fire companies from being sued, from liability arising from a sexual predator member that might go into a home and abuse young children. This is important. The legislature adopted it almost unanimously with only one negative vote. I frankly think it’s a no-brainer for the governor, I’m very confident that when it gets to his desk he will sign it.”

Money for storm damage

Bonacic then addressed the issue of the damage that was caused in the towns of Callicoon and Delaware and the Village of Jeffersonville during the flooding in early July.

It’s estimated that the damage will be about $3 million, which is not enough to trigger relief aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But Bonacic said, “If Cuomo determines that there has been substantial damage to infrastructure, there’s been substantial damage to residents and businesses, he can authorize the state Emergency Management Agency to give grants to these communities to get them back on their feet.” He said he was going to ask Cuomo to make that determination.

Gunther noted that because property assessments are comparatively low in Sullivan County, the awarding of relief is not on a level playing field. She said, “If you have three houses in Westchester that are damaged, they’ll meet the threshold right away. But in our community the assessments are a lot lower, so it’s really unfair and I think we need to write legislation to take that into account.”