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Friday, October 24, 2014
News
New background checks for volunteer firefighters
Seaford, Wantagh support law requiring sex offense screenings
Jack Healy/Herald
Volunteer firefighters respond to many calls each year in Seaford and Wantagh. A new law allows fire departments to reject applicants who are convicted sex offenders.

Thanks to a new state law, prospective volunteer firefighters will now be subjected to additional background checks. Wantagh and Seaford fire department leaders hailed the move.

On Aug. 4, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation requiring volunteer firefighter applicants to undergo a background check for sex offense convictions. The law had been passed by both the State Senate and Assembly.

According to the bill, fire companies will be able to determine whether to accept or reject prospective firefighters based on convictions for sex crimes. “These people go into houses, whether it’s on a fire call or an emergency-services call,” said Assemblyman David McDonough (R-Merrick), who was a co-sponsor of the bill. “In a fire situation, you don’t have that choice. They come in.”

McDonough said that if a fire department is summoned to a house for a call as simple as a carbon monoxide alarm, firefighters go through every room with a meter.

The Wantagh and Seaford departments already have some precautions in place. Every prospective volunteer must have an arson background check, which is done by the Nassau County Sheriff’s Department.

Seaford Fire Chief Paul Lochner said he was glad to add another level of checks to the department’s screening process. The department does not want sex offenders serving in its ranks, he said. Firefighters respond to schools, in addition to hosting fire safety programs for children.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Lochner said of the new law. “Anything that can help the safety of the community, I think it’s great.”

The Seaford Fire Department, which has one firehouse and a volunteer roster of about 65 men and women, also requires prospective volunteers to present three letters of recommendation. “Seaford is a small town, so you pretty much know everybody,” Lochner said. “It’s really for the community to feel confident that the members are all good, upstanding citizens.”

The Wantagh Fire Department has more than 200 volunteers responding from five fire stations. Fire Chief Jason Jackowitz agreed that the new law would protect the integrity of the local fire service.

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