Stern, Romaine Unveil Package of Incentives for Volunteer Firefighters

A package of incentives to boost support for volunteer firefighters, including a mental health program modeled on a well-respected veterans support system, was outlined Thursday by Assemblyman Steve Stern and Suffolk County Executive Ed Romaine.

Speaking at the Dix Hills Fire Department, Stern and Romaine said that other initiatives included providing more equipment, strengthening financial incentives and recruiting and retaining volunteers.

In recent years, volunteer fire departments have said that recruitment of new firefighters has become much more difficult, aging departments and leading one firefighter to joke Thursday about his colleagues sporting graying or balding heads.

The financial incentives, part of legislation sponsored by Stern, includes increasing the number of years of service that volunteer firefighters or ambulance workers may receive contributions in Length of Service Awards Programs. Those incentives go into municipally funded pension-like benefits.  The other incentive Legislation is for fire EMS personnel employed by Suffolk County Fire Districts to receive an an enhanced pension that offers a 25-year retirement option.

The mental health program is modeled on the Joseph P. Dwyer Peer Support project, which assists veterans with one-on-one counseling and support.

To increase and strengthen departments, the state is increasing  funding and grant opportunities for local departments to offset costs related to recruiting. It has also created  a training stipend program to 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.

“We have to start doing more to encourage” more volunteers,  Romaine said. pointing to the network of unpaid volunteers who protect Long Island communities.

Dix Hills Fire Commissioner Todd Cohen said Stern had consistently helped the department acquire what it needed, including better communications systems to prevent dropped radio calls, and, during the Covid-19 epidemic, personally delivered test strips to firefighters.

“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.





Leave a Reply