Opinion 94 - 25


This opinion represents the views of the Office of the State Comptroller at the time it was rendered. The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.

VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS -- Service Award Program (service credit for attending meetings of groups within a fire department or fire company)

GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW, 217(c)(v): Section 217(c)(v) of the General Municipal Law does not authorize credit to be granted towards a year of firefighting service under a service award program for attendance at "meetings" of an emergency rescue and first aid squad, a fire police squad or the "executive board" of a fire company.

You ask whether General Municipal Law, 217(c)(v) authorizes credit to be granted towards a year of firefighting service under a service award program for attendance at "meetings" of groups formed within a fire department or fire company, such as an emergency rescue and first aid squad, a fire police squad or the "executive board" of a fire company.

General Municipal Law, 217(c) provides that a "year of firefighting service" must be credited under a service award program for each calendar year after the establishment of the program in which an active volunteer firefighter accumulates at least 50 points. Points must be granted for the performance of certain designated activities, in accordance with a system established by the sponsor (id.). General Municipal Law, 217(c)(v) provides that such activities may include "[a]ttendance at any official meetings of the volunteer fire company".

The service award statute does not define what is meant by "official meetings of [a] volunteer fire company" (see General Municipal Law, 215). We note, however, that a "fire company" generally consists of the volunteer firefighters who are members of the company (see, General City Law, 16-a; Not-For-Profit Corporation Law, 1402[c][3]; Town Law, 176-b; Village Law, 10-1006; see also, White on New York Corporations, 1402.00[1]). Thus, in our view, an "official meeting of [a] volunteer fire company" is a duly authorized meeting of the entire membership of the company.

General Municipal Law, 209-b(1) authorizes the authorities having control of fire departments and fire companies to organize within such departments or companies emergency rescue and first aid squads composed of firefighters who are members of such departments or companies. Similarly, General Municipal Law, 209-c authorizes the authorities having control of fire departments and fire companies to organize within such departments or companies fire police squads composed of volunteer firefighters who are members of such departments or companies.

Since sections 209-b and 209-c authorize emergency rescue and first aid squads and fire police squads to be organized "within" a fire department or fire company, we have previously concluded that such squads may not be organized as separate "fire departments" or "fire companies" (see, e.g., 1991 Opns St Comp No. 91-22, p 69; 1990 Opns St Comp No. 90-34, p 78). Thus, meetings of an emergency rescue and first aid squad or a fire police squad are not "official meetings of [a] volunteer fire company" because the squad is not a fire company. Therefore, it is our opinion that points may not granted pursuant to section 217(c)(v) for attending "meetings" of an emergency rescue and first aid squad or a fire police squad.

As to whether section 217(c)(v) authorizes points to be granted for attending meetings of the "executive board" of a fire company, we note that incorporated fire companies are governed by the provisions of the Not-For-Profit Corporation Law (see Not-For-Profit Corporation Law, 102[5], 103[a], 1402). Not-For-Profit Corporation Law, 701 provides generally that a not-for-profit corporation must be managed by its board of directors. Not-For-Profit Corporation Law, 712(a) authorizes the board of directors to designate from among its members an "executive committee", consisting of three or more directors, to exercise certain authority vested in the board.

Since membership on either the board of directors or the executive committee of the board of directors of a fire company is limited to the directors of the fire company, a meeting of either body is not an "official meeting of [a] volunteer fire company" because the meeting does not include the entire membership of the company (cf. Not-For-Profit Corporation Law, 603, pertaining to meetings of members of not-for-profit corporations). Therefore, it is our opinion that points may not be granted pursuant to section 217(c)(v) for attending meetings of either the board of directors or the executive committee of the board of directors of a fire company.

We also note, however, that section 217(c)(vii) authorizes a point system to provide points for the performance of certain "miscellaneous activities". For this purpose, "miscellaneous activities" include participation in inspections and other activities covered by the Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law and not otherwise listed in section 217(c).

Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law, 5(1)(f) provides coverage to a volunteer firefighter while within the State and pursuant to orders or authorization "attending or working at meetings of his fire department or company, or any organized unit thereof, at the firehouse or other regular or special headquarters of the department, company or unit . . ." (emphasis supplied). Thus, to the extent that the activities in question are not otherwise listed in section 217(c) (cf. General Municipal Law, 217[c][ii], [iv] and [vii], pertaining to points for participating in certain "drills" and "inspections", and for serving in an "elected or appointed position"), they may constitute "miscellaneous activities" if covered by the Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law. In this regard, we also note that the Workers' Compensation Board is authorized to make determinations of claims for benefits under the Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law (see Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law, 43), and that whether a given activity is covered by that law is a question of statutory construction particularly within the Board's expertise to determine (see Coburn v Hewlett Fire Department, 111 AD2d 1071, 490 NYS2d 644). Therefore, you may wish to contact the Workers' Compensation Board with respect to whether the activities in question are covered under the Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law and, hence, may constitute "miscellaneous activities" within the meaning of section 217(c)(vii).

December 14, 1994
George T. Gander, Jr., Chairman
West Hempstead Fire District