With lawmakers close to passing legislation to allow the once-defunct New York Fire Patrol to return to fire scenes, an insurance industry group is continuing to accuse supporters of having hidden motives.
The Fire Patrol, whose role for decades was salvaging property and limiting damage at the scene of commercial fires, now exists only as a non-profit organization focused on fire education and outreach.
The effort to fully resurrect it in state law has been spearheaded by Arnold Roma, whose son, Keith Roma, who served on the Fire Patrol and was killed in the 9/11 attacks.
But with legislation pending this week, the New York Insurance Association is arguing that bringing back the inefficient, wasteful entity could set a precedent for reinstituting an assessment on insurers in the future.
“They want their blue lights and whistles and to be able to have access at scenes,” said NYIA President Ellen Melchionni. “Last year when we were lobbying against the bill, they said all they wanted to do was educate. Now they want to go to salvage, now they want to be at the scene. So their story keeps changing. It’s just very curious why they need a special statute to create them.”
Earlier this week, Assemblyman Michael Cusick, a sponsor of the legislation, said it had nothing to do with insurance companies.
And Bob Ungar, a lobbyist for the Uniformed Firefighters Assocation, insisted that it would not bring back the assessments on insurance companies that were discontinued after the Patrol was shut down in 2006.
He cited a memorandum from the New York Fire Patrol that says it “does not intend to rely at all upon any resources compulsorily obtained from the insurance industry in support of its activities, including any statutory assessments previously used to support the former organization.”
“There is no authority being granted here for any assessments of any kind,” said Ungar, noting that the patrol is now funded with grants and donations. “That’s just bunk and it’s a scare tactic, and to be honest with you, we can’t figure out why these guys care about this at all. To say, ‘Well, maybe this is a foot in the door,’ is wrong.”
Ungar also argued that the Patrol would save insurance companies money by protecting property – without any taxpayer support. “While I can’t quantify it, one would surmise that in fact insurance companies would save some money on the claims here,” he said.
But Melchionni said the previous Fire Patrol cost a $10 million a year and it was a “boondoggle to fund all these firefighters that were already double-dipping on their other pensions.”
“Look, the insurance industry is in the business of making a profit,” she said. “If they thought it saved them money, they would continue to fund it. If they thought they could make a dime on it, they would continue to fund it.”
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