Addressing Pension Tier Fairness at the State Capitol is Essential to Countering the Challenges of Recruiting and Retaining Professional Fire Fighters

By Sam Fresina | May 19, 2023

The period between 2008 and 2012 was a turbulent political time in New York state. It was led by several Governors, and its once stable and predictable pension system saw dramatic changes. A series of new retirement tiers were introduced in rapid succession, without a clear understanding of their long-term consequences – most notably Tiers V and VI. Arguably, among those suffering the greatest harm were New York’s professional fire fighters.

Despite the objections of many – legislation, carrying a delayed impact, was forced forward – and with it a series of cascading consequences and inequities that took ten years to publicly emerge from the smoke. Today, those actions initiated by those who are no longer in office – are harming New York’s full-time fire fighters, their families and the communities that rely upon them.

The Governor and Legislature have an opportunity this year to reverse the negative consequences by focusing on:

  • Uniform pension contribution rates,
  • Recalculating the basis for retirement benefits; and
  • removing a severe penalty on social security benefits specific to New York City fire fighters.

And here’s why.

Fire Fighting is not an Ordinary Job.

During one 24-hour shift, a fire fighter will respond to extraordinary events ranging from a multi-story blazes where toxic chemicals fill the air, to accidents and medical emergencies where high-pressured decision making is the norm.

Being a Professional Fire Fighter Takes its Toll on Both Mind and Body.

First responders have higher incidents heart disease, cancer, and exposure to trauma. It is among the most dangerous of all occupations.

A Disturbing Trend.

While some professional fire fighters retire after 20 years on the job, the Tier V and VI provisions eroded pension and survivor benefits for the vast majority of those serving today. To support their families, many are working more years than they should.

When is One More Year on the Job – Too Many?

Collectively professional fire fighters have a lower life expectancy than the general population.

Historically, their challenging work conditions resulted in wage and retirement benefits reflecting this very real vulnerability. Under the existing Tier V and VI this support is eroding.

Professional Fire fighters are responding to more alarms than ever, in New York State more than one call a minute – while at the same time local fire houses are struggling to maintain their rosters.

Making pension tier fairness a priority is key to address recruitment and retention challenges. And, ensuring that these essential workers are not suffering the consequences of a policy that failed to see the impact on communities or those who serve it.

Sam Fresina is the President of the New York State Professional Fire Fighters Association.