Area state lawmakers tout repeal of 'Ropes Law'--unfunded state mandate that forces rural, small fire departments to purchase unneeded equipment

Thomas F. O'Mara

June 26, 2012

Albany, N.Y.— State Senator Tom O’Mara (R,C-Big Flats), Assemblyman Chris Friend (R-Big Flats) and Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,C-Corning) have voted in favor of legislation, given final legislative approval, to eliminate the state’s one-size-fits-all “Ropes Law” for firefighter safety and allow local fire departments more flexibility to choose equipment that best meets the needs and conditions of their communities.

The so-called “Ropes Law” stemmed from a January 2005 tragedy in New York City where two firefighters were killed and four others badly injured when they were forced to jump from a fourth-floor window of a burning building in the Bronx.  That day, known as “Black Sunday,” also saw a third firefighter die while fighting a basement fire in Brooklyn and then another die in a different location in the Bronx.  A subsequent internal Fire Department of New York (FDNY) report uncovered a failure to provide escape ropes, update operational procedures and adequate training.

The resulting law, commonly called the “Ropes Law,” has since been interpreted by the state to require local departments statewide to provide specific, expensive safety equipment suited for high-rise emergency bailouts statewide.  It has applied the high-rise rules to rural and suburban departments where the tallest buildings could be a barn or two-story house.

“The ‘Ropes Rule’ was well-intentioned but it was the product of an out-of-touch Albany bureaucracy that left taxpayers footing the bill for unnecessarily expensive purchases of equipment that goes unused in many rural areas and smaller localities upstate,” O’Mara, Friend and Palmesano said in a statement.  “This legislation will give our local fire chiefs the flexibility they should have to make safety equipment decisions based on what works best in their rural and small town departments.  It eliminates an unfunded mandate, is more cost-effective for taxpayers and still, most importantly, ensures the safety of local firefighters.”

Under the new legislation (S.7677/A.10677), fire departments would still need to be properly equipped to handle emergency escapes, but local chiefs could choose from a range of nationally recognized safety systems instead of being required to purchase, at exorbitant expense, a single type that may not even be effective for their firefighters.

The legislation now goes to Governor Andrew Cuomo to be signed into law.