Opinion 95 - 9


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 The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.

FIRE COMMISSIONERS -- Service Award Program (service credit for attending meetings of the fire district board of commissioners)

VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS -- Service Award Program (service credit for attending meetings of the fire district board of commissioners); (service credit for attending meetings of committees of a fire company); (pro rating the number of points credited for participation in less than the minimum number of calls)

GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW, §217(c): (1) A fire district commissioner who is also an active volunteer firefighter may not be granted points toward a year of firefighting service under a length of service award program for attending fire district governing board meetings. (2) Points toward a year of firefighting service may not be granted pursuant to General Municipal Law, §217(c)(v) to active volunteer firefighters for attending meetings of committees of a fire company. (3) A service award program may not provide for pro rating the number of points credited if a firefighter participates in less than the minimum number of calls set forth in General Municipal Law, §217(c)(vi).

You ask the following questions concerning a length of service award program established by a fire district pursuant to article 11-A of the General Municipal Law (§214 et seq.): (1) are commissioners of a fire district who are also active volunteer firefighters entitled to receive credit toward a year of firefighting service under the program for attendance at regularly scheduled meetings of the fire district board of commissioners; (2) may active volunteer firefighters receive credit for attendance at fire company committee meetings pursuant to General Municipal Law, §217(c)(v); and (3) may active volunteer firefighters receive pro rated credit if they participate in less than the minimum number of department responses prescribed in General Municipal Law, §217(c)(vi)?

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) provides that such activities may include, inter alia, "[a]ttendance at any official meetings of the volunteer fire company" and participation in certain department responses (General Municipal Law, §217[c][v], [vi]; emphasis added).

A fire district and a fire company are separate and distinct entities. A fire district is a public corporation governed by a board of commissioners (Town Law, §§174, 176; General Construction Law, §66), while a fire company is a not-for-profit corporation or association comprised of the volunteer firefighters who are members of the company (see Town Law, §176-b; Not-For-Profit Corporation Law, §1402[c][3]). It is clear, therefore, that a meeting of the board of fire district commissioners does not constitute a meeting of a volunteer fire company. Since General Municipal Law, §217(c)(v) authorizes the earning of credit toward a year of firefighting service only for attendance at official meetings of a volunteer fire company, and not meetings of the fire district board of commissioners, a commissioner who is also an active volunteer firefighter may not be granted points for attending fire district governing board meetings.

As to the accumulation of credit for attending fire company committee meetings, we note that in 1994 Opns St Comp No. 94-25, p 44, we expressed the view that the phrase "official meeting of the volunteer fire company", as used in section 217(c)(v), applies only to duly authorized meetings of the entire membership of the company. Thus, we concluded that points may not be granted for attending meetings with the board of directors, or the executive committee of the board of directors, of the fire company. For the same reason, we conclude that points may not be accumulated pursuant to section 217(c)(v) for attending meetings of committees of the fire company (but see Opn No. 94-25, supra, concerning the award of points pursuant to section 217[c][vii] for the performance of certain "miscellaneous activities").

With respect to points for participation in department responses, section 217(c)(vi) provides that twenty-five points "shall be granted ... for participation on the minimum number of calls" as specified in that provision. In contrast to other categories of activities, for which a maximum number of points is authorized (see General Municipal Law, §217[c][i]-[v], [vii]), section 217(c)(vi) prescribes a fixed number of points for responding to a minimum number of calls. Once a firefighter reaches that minimum, he or she must be credited with twenty-five points. Conversely, section 217 provides no authority for the crediting of any points if the threshold is not met (cf. General Municipal Law, §217[i], which expressly provides for pro rating credit for a partial year of military service). Accordingly, we conclude that a service award program may not provide for pro rating the number of points credited if a firefighter participates in less than the statutorily prescribed minimum number of calls set forth in section 217(c)(vi) .

April 18, 1995
Carl S. Wolfson, Esq.
Hughsonville Fire District