Stricter background checks for volunteer firefighters with new law

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Updated: 8/04 10:52 pm

ALBANY, N.Y. – Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a new law that calls for volunteer firefighters in the State of New York to face stricter background checks.

The law seeks to help prevent registered sex offenders from joining area squads and FASNY is applauding the decision. 

According to the governor's office, firefighter's are often in a position where they interact with the most vulnerable, especially children. The new law seeks to make communities safer by allowing volunteer organizations to keep volunteer fire-teams free of sexual offenders.

David Quinn explains that Monday marked a big day for volunteer firefighters across the state after years of pushing for stricter background checks.

“We want to keep the sex offenders out of the firehouses,” said Quinn.

Quinn not only works for the Fireman's Association of the State of New York but also happens to be the Assistant Volunteer Fire Chief himself.

“It’s very critical because not only are we held to higher regard in the public trust, but at the same time we are involved with children," said Quinn.

Whether it's a response to a fire or a career day at area schools, Quinn says he doesn’t want sex offenders on his team. He says this law now allows firehouses to expand the scope of existing checks for new hires.

“Background check would be done on a potential candidate, if that candidate was found to have arson, he was not allowed in the fire department, and this law is going to do basically the same thing,” he said.

Currently, Quinn says smaller firehouses like his often know the candidates who apply, and sex offender websites can let fire administrators know a person’s past, but before now it wasn't technically illegal.

“There were no restrictions against it at the time and again that's one of the reasons we wanted to push the law," Quinn explained.

Many local firefighters believe the law is a good thing, but many were surprised it wasn’t a law already.

Nick Truax has been a volunteer firefighter in Colonie for the past five years. He says he was shocked to hear volunteer fire departments weren’t screening out potential candidates for past sex offenses before now.

“I always assumed it was something that was already there, because of the amount of work we do with kids," said Truax.

FASNY says that even though convicted arsonists have long been forbidden from joining volunteer departments, nothing was on the books to outright say sex offenders couldn't.

Traux says between house fires and career days, the amount of interaction he has with the public as a volunteer firefighter is enormous. He says he would hate to see anyone abuse that privilege.

“When I think my own house caught on fire at one point, and just to think a sex offender could have been in my home that's something that should have been changed a long time ago," he said.

Quinn says that before this law was put in place, specific troops could regulate their own rules regarding who they hire.  FASNY champions the law for making it easier on departments to keep sex offenders out.

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