A labor union representing firefighters got a boost from borough elected officials as it seeks better disability pensions for rookie firefighters injured in the line of duty.
The Uniformed Firefighters Association got support recently from several Bronx elected officials, including Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Councilmen Andy King and James Vacca, in passing a City Council resolution calling for the reversal of a 2009 state arrangement that gives first-year firefighters a half-pension if disabled in the line of duty.
The UFA contends that these disability payments come to about $27 dollars a day, or about $10,000 per year if a first year firefighter is injured or burned. The half-pay calculation is less than any Social Security disability benefits.
Previously first-year probationary firefighters and rookie city police officers received three quarters of their salary.
“Our firefighters put their lives on the line for the people of this city every single day,” said Diaz. “Their disability benefits should reflect that commitment and sacrifice, regardless of their time on the job.”
King, himself a past organizer for 1199 Service Employees International Union, emphatically expressed his support.
“It’s time for us to believe, to stand up and speak truth to power and make the changes,” he said, adding “So now it’s time to make the change, and make sure that we protect the men and women who serve us every day.”
Councilman Vacca said that he was one of about 37 sponsors of a resolution, to be sent to the state legislature, calling for it to remedy the situation resulting from a 2009 Governor Paterson veto.
Paterson vetoed an extension of what are known as ‘Tier 2’ pension benefits.
“I think it is a question of fairness,” said Vacca. “I value policemen and firemen and I signed on (to the resolution early on) because I believe they are important to the city, and their families need to be in a secure place.”
Public Advocate Letitia James has called for pension parity. Steve Cassidy, UFA president, made his case.
“Would you risk your life and health for only $27 a day?” he asked. “It’s horrific that the top leadership in City Hall is saying that $10,000 a year is all the disability protection that a New York City Firefighter – the best trained firefighter in the world – will receive if permanently disabled on the job.”
John Marano, Community Board 10 vice-chairman and a retired city firefighter and police officer, indicated that lower disability pay could result in first responders taking less necessary risks.
“No one ever thought they were going to get rich becoming a cop or firefighter, but we need to be protected if we get injured,” said Marano.
Marano said that firefighting always brings the risk of a career-ending injury because you can never know the situation you may encounter.
“Imagine a firefighter getting an injury, or maybe becoming paralyzed or burnt,” he said. “A career-ending injury can really affect your life negatively.”
With many firefighters having families to support, legislators need to stand in the shoes of first responders like police and fire fighters, said Marano.