Tucked into a controversial New York gun law is a provision that increases the penalty for someone who kills a first responder while they are performing their duties.
The Webster provision – named in honor of West Webster Firefighters Michael “Chip” Chiapperini and Tomasz Kaczowka, who were shot and killed in an ambush on Christmas Eve – states that a person convicted of killing a responder will be sentenced to life without parole.
The previous legislation that carried this penalty for killing law enforcement officers now extends to firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, ambulance drivers as well as physicians and nurses who are acting as first responders.
“We’re pleased the governor put it in the bill,” said David Quinn, chief administrative officer for the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY).
The association and other New York crews had been lobbying for the past several years for their legislators to pass a similar bill called Mark’s Law.
The measure was named in honor of Mark Davis, an EMT who was shot and killed on Jan. 30, 2009 while responding to call in Cape Vincent.
Christopher Burke, who was found to be emotionally disturbed, pleaded guilty to manslaughter. On April 1, 2011, he was sentenced to 16 years in prison.
“It’s sad that we had to have a disaster like West Webster to bring this back into focus,” Quinn said.
Nonetheless, he said he was pleased that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo added the provision in the law he signed on the second day of the state’s legislative session.
FASNY officials are still lobbying their elected officials for a number of measures they believe will save the lives of both firefighters and citizens.
They are pushing for a law prohibiting the sale of upholstered furniture that becomes fully involved in flames in less than 20 minutes from the time that it is exposed to a heat source. They also want to outlaw the use of materials that produce toxic gasses that cause or are likely to cause cancer.
Fire officials also will be making their case once again for the statewide ban on novelty lighters. The lighters that look like toys cause numerous injuries and ignite fires annually.
FASNY also is supportive of volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel buckling up in emergency vehicles. Therefore, they are seeking to eliminate the exception to the state’s motor vehicle law.
“This new legislation would require the use of safety belts as installed by the manufacturer in volunteer emergency vehicles. An exception exists for volunteer EMS personnel providing patient care in the rear compartment of an ambulance. Additional exceptions will exempt other fire apparatus where rear compartment seat belts are impractical or non-applicable,” according to FASNY documents.
Responders often attend hearings to promote the legislation, and Quinn said he keeps members informed by posting updates to the association's website.