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Paterson approves volunteer health insurance plan

FINGER LAKES—To encourage more volunteers to join fire and ambulance departments, Gov. David Paterson signed a law last week allowing municipalities to offer insurance to volunteers.
The law allows fire and ambulance volunteers to buy into the New York State Health Insurance Program.
Dundee Fire Chief Ray Miller said this sort of incentive could get a few more people to join.
However, for now, Dundee won’t offer this insurance. Clerk Chris Sutherland said the village would have to approve it first. She added that since this year’s budget has already been approved, it would have to be worked into the next year’s budget if approved.
Watkins Glen Clerk Donna Beardsley added an agreement with the fire department would have to be written as part of the paperwork.
Beardsley said this is different than before because as soon as the village offers any sort of compensation, the person is no longer a volunteer. She explained this applied to any volunteers, not just those in fire and ambulance departments. Beardsley said the village was advised any sort of compensation, even mileage reimbursements, nullified volunteer status.
Watkins Fire Chief Dominick Smith called the new law a “dual edged sword.” He said having the chance to buy insurance is only worthwhile if the volunteer can afford it.
“The cost is still up for discussion,” said Smith.
He added that incentives are needed to encourage people to join volunteer fire and ambulance departments so they will be more willing give the time it takes.

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