Since volunteer firefighters are entrusted with the safety and well-being of the public, it is no doubt important that prospective members are deemed fit for their responsibilities.
Earlier this month, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation that strengthened the vetting process for volunteer firefighters, namely by requiring applicants to submit a background check for prior sex offense convictions.
Previously, applicants were only checked for prior arson convictions and perhaps other criminal issues depending on the fire department.
Now, the mandating of this new check ensures that volunteer firefighters, who often work in the presence of vulnerable children, will not pose any sort of risk as a prior sex offender.
"Firefighters are often in a position where they serve and protect vulnerable members of their communities," Cuomo said. "By allowing these groups to screen for sexual offenders and remove any individuals who have been convicted of sexual offenses, we are supporting some of our most important local volunteer groups and taking a strong step toward having safer communities across the state."
Julius Leone, director of the Chautauqua County office of emergency services, supported the governor's decision.
"I think it's a great idea," he said. "I think a lot of fire departments already look at these kinds of things when they bring new members in ... but this really mandates it."
Mike Gleason, president of the Ashville Volunteer Fire Department, was also supportive.
"I'm in agreement with the law," he said. "I think if you have somebody's young kid in the back of an ambulance, we should know if (somebody around them) is a sex offender or not."