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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"What would we do without them?"
ALBANY, April 21 -- It’s a thought that comes to mind every time there’s another natural disaster, another emergency, another act of terror like what we saw last week in Boston and in Texas: What would we do without our first responders?
Always among the most powerful images from these terrible events are the photos of firefighters carrying the wounded to safety, first responders rushing toward – not away from – danger, police officers instinctively shielding everyone else from harm.
We saw these images yet again last week in the aftermaths of the Boston Marathon bombings and the fertilizer plant explosion in central Texas. They are images of heroism and they leave us wondering: Where would we turn without these heroes in these times of need?
And so terrible events like these are times, also, to reassess our response strategies, reevaluate our emergency services, and reflect on how we can and must do better.
So this week, at a time when Americans everywhere will observe National Volunteer Week, I’d like to take a moment to do just that -- and to do it in a way that focuses on the place that our emergency first responders hold in our communities and throughout our society.
Because in so many quiet ways, each and every day, a police officer, an EMT, a paramedic, or a firefighter is the strongest thread holding together the fabric of our cities, towns and villages. Maybe nowhere is this more true than in rural, small town regions like ours where the volunteer fire department and the volunteer ambulance service has been the bedrock and the anchor of the community for generations. We read it virtually every week in our newspapers -- another volunteer firefighter being honored for decades of service, another first responder for an act of bravery, another police officer standing tall on the community’s behalf.
They are amazing stories -- big stories of courage and smaller acts of kindness -- that have earned our admiration and respect.
Which makes the fact that so many volunteer services are struggling to keep up their ranks one of the most troubling challenges we face. In my view, our focus in government must include the long-term ability of local volunteer fire companies and ambulance services to recruit and retain volunteers.
Today, according to statistics, volunteer fire departments account for 73% of all of America’s fire departments. Very simply, each one stands as a source of civic pride and community involvement The men and women who keep these organizations going year after year are literally lifelines of community action and support.
And always in the background, anytime we consider the future of volunteer emergency services, is this: Prominent organizations like the New York State Association of Towns and the Firemen’s Association of New York (FASNY) point out time and again their value.
For instance, the Association of Towns (www.nytowns.org) issued a report
several years ago that pegged the cost to local taxpayers statewide at
more than $7 billion annually to replace volunteers with paid fire and
ambulance services. According to FASNY (www.fasny.com), the number of
volunteer firefighters statewide has dropped from 140,000 in the early
1990s to fewer than 90,000
So with all of these ongoing challenges in mind, I’m proud to
continue sponsoring, along with area Assemblymen Phil Palmesano and Chris
Friend, what’s known as the “Emergency Services Volunteer
Incentive Act.” Our legislation would put in place a mix of tax
relief and other incentives
Its overriding purpose is twofold. First, it serves as a starting point for an overdue discussion on how to respond to the dwindling numbers..
But equally important – and especially timely given last week’s tragedies in Boston and in Texas -- it keeps attention focused on the true heart of the matter: What would we do without our first responders?
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Thomas Gifford, Doris Karius, Glenn Larison
Bottom row: Michael A. Yuhasz, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Michael A. Yuhasz, 535-4967
Doris L. Karius, 546-5544
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Glenn R. Larison, 594-3385
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Margaret Starbuck, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Christopher Friend --
Chemung, Schuyler, Tioga
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869