With a case of swine flu recently confirmed in Otsego County and the first upstate death from the virus announced Wednesday, the epidemic is hitting close to home.

We are just as disturbed, however, the county Department of Health, following the recommendation of the state DOH, did not release the town in which the patient lives. Jeffrey Hammond, spokesman for the state DOH, cited confidentiality laws as the reason.

We believe that it's essential that at least the town in which this individual lives be revealed. While we know the individual likely travels and the flu could easily be spread outside that town, that information could help his or her community react appropriately. Officials would be able to act accordingly, such as preparing for the possibility of closing places such as schools should the need arise.

Also, sick people living there would be able to take increased precautions. It's especially important for those who are already ill to be careful, as many of the people who have died from swine flu had pre-existing conditions.

The more information the public has, the less panic will occur. Releasing this one piece of information wouldn't violate the patient's confidentiality, and the increased safety of many would be gained.

Credit, grants would help departments

What if there was a fiery car crash and no one came to help?

That situation seems to get closer to reality every day, as volunteer fire departments and emergency squads in the Heartland of New York struggle to find and keep members. And with the budget crunch, paid municipal services are feeling the pinch as well.

Two efforts on the federal level may help the situation.

Sen. Charles Schumer last week touted a plan that includes a $1,000 refundable tax credit for volunteer firefighters and emergency-service personnel who give at least 40 hours a year to a department.

The training volunteers need to be fully active in their departments seems to grow every year. It's a huge time commitment _ often beyond 40 hours per year. The legislation is now in the Senate Finance Committee. We encourage the committee to move the legislation forward.

In a separate initiative, Schumer is also working for an expansion of a grant program that would fund retaining or rehiring firefighters.

Tough times call for hard choices, but putting public safety at risk shouldn't be one of them. Making sure firehouses are fulled staffed must be a priority.

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