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Town sees no takers for volunteer insurance

Officials will continue to support the incentive in Bethlehem

A law aimed at making volunteer firefighter or EMS service more attractive has been passed in the state Senate, but officials in the Town of Bethlehem said while the law's incentives are already in place in town, there are few takers.

Senate Bill S5111 would allow municipalities to extend healthcare insurance, including the New York State Health Insurance Program offered by many municipalities, including Bethlehem, to volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers.

A Senate Insurance Committee spokesperson said the legislation is intended to clear up ambiguities in an already existing law to make it clear municipalities can extend NYSHIP to volunteers, and that it is not mandatory. Volunteers wishing to sign up for the municipality's insurance assume all costs.

Bethlehem Emergency Management Officer Director John Brennan said the town began extending the option about two years ago, as soon as it became available.

The unfortunate thing is that we have not had any takers, he said. "It's a double edged sword. The benefits that the employees of the Town of Bethlehem have are very good, and consequently that package when opened up to the volunteers is very expensive."

Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Delmar, was a sponsor of the legislation, and said it would not only help firefighters already serving obtain adequate insurance coverage, but could help attract new volunteers in a time when many departments are facing thinning ranks.

"Some fire departments and districts are facing recruitment shortages, this law would assist in recruiting men and women who wish to serve their communities, and help keep health care affordable," Breslin said in a statement.

Recruitment is one aspect of why the town began offering the option to volunteers in the first place, said Supervisor Sam Messina. He indicated the new legislation wouldn't change the town's position.

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