Opinion 98 - 24


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 The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.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 DISTRICTS -- Appropriations and Expenditures (for Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law coverage for a firefighter of a bordering fire company providing on-going services)

VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTERS -- Disability Benefits (liability for when fire district accepts on-going services of firefighters of a bordering fire company)

GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW, §209-i: A fire district which, pursuant to General Municipal Law, §209-i(1-a), accepts the services of a volunteer firefighter who is a member of a fire company in a bordering area, is liable for Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law benefits accruing to the volunteer firefighter if injured during the time such services are rendered.

You ask whether a fire district which, pursuant to General Municipal Law, §209-i(1-a), accepts the services of an individual who is a member of a fire company in a bordering area, is responsible for Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law ("VFBL") coverage for that individual.

General Municipal Law, §209-i(1-a) provides that a volunteer firefighter who, because of his or her residence or usual occupation, is regularly in the area served by a volunteer fire company or department of which he or she is not a member, may volunteer his or her services on an on-going basis to the officer in command of the company or department to assist the company's or department's general or emergency ambulance services, or to assist at a fire or other emergency scene. The commanding officer of a fire district, when authorized by the board of the fire commissioners, is empowered, in his or her discretion, to so accept the services of such a volunteer firefighter.

Section 30 of the VFBL sets forth a statutory scheme with respect to which entity is responsible for the payment of benefits under the VFBL. In general, section 30 provides that the "home area" of the firefighter at the time of injury is responsible for VFBL benefits (see Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law, §30[1-6]). Thus, for example, if at the time of injury, a volunteer firefighter was a member of a fire company of a fire district fire department, any VFBL benefits generally would be a fire district charge, even if the injury occurred while performing services outside the fire district (Volunteer Firefighters' Benefit Law, §30[1]; see, e.g., 1989 Opns St Comp No. 89-15, p 30).

Services provided pursuant to section 209-i(1-a), however, fall within an exception to the "home area" rule. In this regard, section 30 of the VFBL expressly states that it applies "[e]xcept as otherwise provided ... in section two hundred nine-i of the general municipal law ...". Section 209-i(1-a) provides that a volunteer firefighter whose services are accepted by the commanding officer of the assisted fire company or department under that section is entitled to all powers, rights, privileges and immunities granted by law to volunteer firefighters during the time services are rendered, including benefits under the VFBL, in the same manner and to the same extent as if he or she were a member of the assisted fire company or department. The effect of this provision, for VFBL purposes, is that the volunteer firefighter providing services under section 209-i(1-a) is treated as if he or she were a member of the assisted fire company or department during the time services are rendered. The assisted fire district, therefore, is liable for VFBL benefits accruing to a volunteer firefighter injured during the time services under section 209-i(1-a) are rendered (see Report to the Governor by the Department of Audit and Control for L 1963, ch 1004, April 30, 1963).

Accordingly, a fire district which, pursuant to General Municipal Law, §209-i(1-a), accepts the services of a volunteer firefighter who is a member of a fire company in a bordering area, is liable for VFBL benefits accruing to the volunteer firefighter if injured during the time such services are rendered.

December 29, 1998
Phyllis K. Beechert, Secretary
Greenville Fire District No. 1