Gun legislation could be trouble for fire departments

OBSERVER Photo by Gregory Bacon The Cassadaga Fire Department will hold a gun raffle on May 5. Legislation has been proposed to outlaw such raffles.

CASSADAGA — A controversial piece of legislation introduced to the New York State Assembly by Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon, D-Brooklyn, could spell bad news for local fire departments. The legislation, Bill A01413, aims to prohibit firearms as prizes in any game of chance, including gun raffles. One such annual gun raffle currently serves as the Cassadaga Fire Department’s key fundraiser.

Cassadaga Fire Chief Chris Wichlacz spoke at a recent village board meeting, and afterward voiced his concerns over the proposed legislation. “New York City doesn’t need to run their fire departments with gun raffles,” Wichlacz stated. “A township would have to increase the fire tax, to subsidize, to give the extra (money).”

Village Clerk Roxanne Astry was quick to make a note regarding Wichlacz’s comment on the taxes, noting that with the budget, even more issues would likely need sorting. “We don’t have a fire tax,” Astry noted. “We’d have to raise the general budget.”

In terms of the fire department’s bills, the effect would be devastating, according to Wichlacz.

“You think about it, the big gun raffle subsidizes most of the bills for the fire department because you don’t see a quarter of what we spend,” Wichlacz said. “We bought half the ambulance, all the EMS materials…90 percent of our calls are EMS.”

A01413 was first introduced Jan. 15 with the following justification from the assembly.ny.us website: “Currently in New York State it is legal to raffle off a firearm in a game of chance. Many times games such as these are open to all individuals regardless of age. Firearms should not be raffled off in this manner. Firearm related violence is a significant public health and safety problem and weapons should not be given away in games of chance.”

Assemblyman David DiPietro, R-East Aurora, currently stands against the bill, as well as Assemblyman Joseph M. Giglio R,C,I-Gowanda, according to a recent OBSERVER phone call with his office in Olean.

“In general, Mr. Giglio is not in favor of the bill, or any bill that prevents or takes away guns from individuals,” Giglio’s office stated. “He will wait to see if there’s any particular piece of legislation to come before him before he makes a decision. He won’t commit to anything until it comes before him.”

Assemblyman Andy Goodell (R-C-I Jamestown) was contacted by the OBSERVER for comment, but could not be reached as New York State Assembly was in session.

Although the legislation lacks a Senate companion bill and won’t be up for a vote anytime soon, passing of gun control legislation in New York has been stirring up strong emotions from both sides of the issue. Governor Andrew Cuomo recently signed the “Red Flag Bill” that goes into effect in 180 days as of Feb. 25 — wherein family members, school administrators and law enforcement officials can seek to get guns confiscated from people deemed by courts to be an “extreme risk” to themselves or others.

In an email sent to the OBSERVER from Cuomo office, he states the following: “The Red Flag Bill, also known as the extreme risk protection order bill, prevents individuals who show signs of being a threat to themselves or others from purchasing or possessing any kind of firearm. This legislation builds on New York’s nation-leading gun laws — including the NY SAFE Act, passed in 2013, and legislation passed last year removing guns from domestic abusers.”

The email goes on to say, “The United States loses more people to gun deaths than most developed nations. New York’s Red Flag Bill is the first in the country that will empower teachers and school administrators to seek court intervention to temporarily remove firearms from a person who is showing red flags, like violent behavior. This law will save lives and help prevent tragedies like the Parkland, Florida shooting from happening in New York. Once again, New York is showing the nation that common-sense gun laws make us safer without infringing upon anyone’s rights.”

As it stands currently, the Red Flag Bill does not directly relate to A01413, which Giglio’s office also confirmed. “As far as I know there’s no connection between the two, they’re separate issues.”

Some are proposing an idea similar to that of a state assembly referendum proposing the separation of New York into two different states. In Elma, Jamison Road Volunteer Fire Company board member Brian Nolan told WGRZ the following in a March 5 article, “I’d like to see a bill to separate New York City from New York State. We’re pretty sure they don’t have these types of gun raffles down there.”

Cassadaga Village Board Trustee Bill Astry also stated the simple fact that money can always be a frequent issue for any municipal body. “Gun raffles are a huge thing out in God’s country,” Astry stated. “Not so much in the cities, they’re all paid, they don’t seem to understand that. You look at local schools, everybody is always raising money for some reason, not that our school taxes aren’t high enough. They still can’t afford things. We need less control in some places.”

Wichlacz ultimately concluded that fire protection directly in rural areas like villages is threatened when funds are eliminated. “By law you have to provide fire protection, so (we’re) going to have to find a way or (we’ll) have to close down fire departments because we don’t have the volunteers,” Wichlacz noted. “It’s this huge problem that we’re having.”

Retaining current and attracting new volunteer firefighters is also worrisome in regards to training hours, which have grown monumentally according to Wichlacz. “Our training hours have gone from 70 to 170,” Wichlacz said. “Because now people are saying ‘I’m not going to spend 170 hours training to be a firefighter, or in EMS,’ and you’re not getting volunteers because they’re not qualified anymore according to the state. The training hours are just incredible, just to be a chief, I’ve had to take 700 hours of classes.”

Cassadaga Mayor Mary Jo Bauer closed out the comments on the matter, noting that equipment upkeep alone could create some turbulence for affected fire departments. “You can’t expect to run EMS or fight fires with equipment that doesn’t meet standards,” Bauer said. “They (New York state) will have to close a lot of them (fire departments).”