Opinion 2002 - 11


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 The opinion may no longer represent those views if, among other things, there have been subsequent court cases or statutory amendments that bear on the issues discussed in the opinion.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 (point accumulation for responding to both fire and ambulance calls)

GENERAL MUNICIPAL LAW 217(c): For purposes of earning a year of firefighting service under a fire district service award program that provides points for participation in department responses, a volunteer firefighter must be credited with twenty-five points for responding to the minimum number of calls of the emergency rescue and first aid squad, as set forth in section 217(c)(vi)(B) of the General Municipal Law, and an additional twenty-five points for responding to the minimum number of fire company calls other than emergency rescue and first aid squad calls, as set forth in section 217(c)(vi)(A) of the General Municipal Law.

We have been asked whether a fire district service award program that provides points for participation in department responses, must credit a volunteer firefighter with twenty-five points for responding to the minimum number of calls of an emergency rescue and first aid squad, and an additional twenty-five points for responding to the minimum number of fire calls.

Section 217(c) of the General Municipal Law provides that "[a] year of firefighting service shall be credited under a service award program for each calendar year after establishment of the program in which an active volunteer firefighter accumulates a least fifty points". Subdivision (c) of section 217 further provides that points must be granted "in accordance with a system adopted by the program sponsor". In general, the system "shall provide" that points "shall be granted" for activities designated by the program sponsor, selected from a list of activities set forth in section 217(c).

Section 217 (c)(vi) contains provisions relating to points for "participation in department responses". It provides for "twenty-five points for responding on the minimum number of calls" (emphasis added), as outlined in subparagraphs (A) and (B) of section 217(c)(vi). Subparagraph (A), in effect, sets forth the minimum number of calls, "other than emergency rescue and first aid squad calls (ambulance calls)", that a volunteer firefighter "must run annually in order to receive twenty-five points credit". Similarly, subparagraph (B), in effect, separately lists the minimum number of emergency rescue and first aid squad calls that a firefighter "must run annually in order to receive twenty-five points credit".

By setting forth two separate and distinct categories of department responses, and separately listing for each category a "minimum number of calls" which must be run "in order to receive" twenty-five points, we believe section 217(c)(vi) is intended to treat each category of response independently for purposes of point accrual. Based on this statutory scheme, it is our opinion that a volunteer firefighter who answers both emergency rescue and fire aid squad calls, as well as fire company calls other than those of the squad, would separately receive twenty-five points for responding to the minimum number of each type of call. It is evident, however, that each call run may only be applied under one category or the other. Therefore, in those instances when both the emergency rescue and first aid squad and the fire company respond, it must be determined for each such call whether an individual is acting as a member of the emergency rescue and first squad or is otherwise responding as a member of the fire company. This involves a question of fact to be resolved, in the first instance, locally.

Accordingly, for purposes of earning a year of firefighting service under a fire district service award program that provides points for participation in department responses, a volunteer firefighter must be credited with twenty-five points for responding to the minimum number of calls of an emergency rescue and first aid squad, as set forth in section 217(c)(vi)(B) of the General Municipal Law, and an additional twenty-five points for responding to the minimum number of fire company calls other than emergency rescue and first aid squad calls, as set forth in section 217(c)(vi)(A) of the General Municipal Law.

October 17, 2002

Patricia Lamb McCarthy
Deputy State Comptroller