Opinion 97 - 13


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 The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.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 Programs (service credit for training taken during a period of suspension); (service credit for training taken without approval)

GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW, 217(c)(i): A volunteer firefighter serving a disciplinary suspension may not earn points for training courses taken during the suspension. A volunteer firefighter in a fire district fire department may not be granted points for training unless the training is approved by the chief or board of fire commissioners.

You ask whether a volunteer firefighter in a fire district fire department may earn points toward a year of firefighting service under a service award program for training courses taken during a period of suspension for misconduct. We are informed that, pursuant to the applicable rules and regulations or by-laws, a volunteer firefighter serving such a disciplinary suspension is prohibited from performing any duties in connection with the fire department during the period of the suspension. You also ask whether points must be granted for training courses taken without the knowledge or permission of the chief or the board of fire commissioners.

Section 217(c) of the General Municipal Law 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 of the program (id.). Section 217(c)(i) provides that such activities may include "[t]raining courses".

Based on the foregoing, only an "active volunteer firefighter" may earn points for attending training courses. For this purpose, an "active volunteer firefighter" is a person who has been approved as an active member of a fire department or fire company by the authorities in control of the department or company and who is "faithfully and actually performing service" in the protection of life and property from fire and other emergency (General Municipal Law, 215[1]). We have previously concluded that this definition of "active volunteer firefighter" includes only currently active members of a fire department or company, and that the distinguishing characteristic of currently active members of a fire department or company is that Opns St Comp, No. 97-13 they are subject to call for whatever duties may be assigned to them under the rules and regulations of the department or company (1994 Opns St Comp No. 94-33, p 59).

In this instance, since a volunteer firefighter serving a disciplinary suspension is barred from performing any duties in connection with the fire department, a volunteer firefighter serving such a suspension is not be subject to call and, hence, not an "active volunteer firefighter" during the period of the suspension. Accordingly, it is our opinion that a volunteer firefighter serving such a disciplinary suspension may not earn points for training courses taken during the suspension.

As to whether points must be granted for attending training courses which are not approved by the chief or the board of fire commissioners, we note that section 217(c)(i) does not contain an express approval requirement. We also note, however, that section 217(c) only provides points for activities that are considered to be within volunteer firefighters' official duties. Since attendance at training courses without the approval of the chief or board of fire commissioners ordinarily is not considered part of a volunteer firefighter's official duties (see Volunteer Firefighters Benefit Law, 3[3], 5[1][d]; General Municipal Law, 72-g), we believe that section 217(c)(i) must be read as requiring such approval as a condition precedent to granting points for training. Accordingly, it is our opinion that a volunteer firefighter may not be granted points for training unless the training is approved by the chief or board of fire commissioners.

July 3, 1997
Priscilla H. Leonard, Secretary
Jonesville Fire District