POINT SYSTEM - Drills
The next category in the State law is the drill category. This is a very short category in the statute:
Drills—twenty points maximum. One point per drill (minimum two hour drill).
Similar to the Training Courses category, there is no definition of a drill in Article 11-A of the New York State General Municipal Law. However, there are definition s in both 11-AA and 11-AAA, the statutes that govern the ambulance squad programs. Here is that definition: For purposes of this paragraph, the term “drill” shall mean a skills practice or skills training session related to emergency medical service... So similar to the Training Category, this seems to be a good working definition of what a Drill should be for a fire department LOSAP.
First, the obvious requirement is that a drill must be a minimum of two hours. All that means is that to meet the definition of a drill under State law, the drill must last two hours. The fire department can still have a one-hour drill, or a mini-drill, it just wouldn't count as a drill for the purposes of this category. It would have to be considered a Miscellaneous point.
Another issue that often comes up in terms of time is a drill that might last four or more hours. Based on audit reports issued by the Office of the State Comptroller, they have stated that Miscellaneous points are one point per activity, regardless of the time spent. For example, a sponsor could not give one point per hour. As a result, we believe that the State would be critical of awarding two points for a four-hour drill. However, it would seem that a reasonable work-around would be that the drill be broken into two, two-hour sessions. This would require two sign-in sheets and for the drill to be broken into two parts, but then there would be two distinct drills of two-hour length.
We once had a question about a one-person drill. You can read more about that here:
The drill category is a fairly non-controversial category - just make sure the drill is at least two hours long, and the sign-in sheets or similar documentation are clear that the drill did last two hours.
Point System - Training Courses
Today we will look at the first Point System category - Training Courses. The current version of the statute looks like this:
(i) Training courses — twenty-five points maximum.
The original version of the statute did not include sub-category (D) for courses over 100 hours. The statute was amended effective September 17, 2003 to add this additional sub-category.
This may be the most important thing to consider when evaluating your own point system - check to see if your point system is compliant with the current version of the statute. Based on audits performed by the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC), it appears that they expect that if a category is included in the point system, it should match the current version of the law.
There is no additional definition of a Training Course in this section of the statute. However, the statutes applicable to ambulance squad service award programs provide the following definition: a course of instruction having a prescribed topic and syllabus. Points for a training course shall be awarded only upon the successful completion of the course and only in the year in which the course is successfully completed. Although this definition does not technically apply to a firefighter program, this is a good working definition to use when trying to determine what is a training course vs a drill.
We can find only one legal opinion from the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) on training courses - Opinion 97-13. The most significant takeaway is the following: 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. Therefore, make sure training courses are approved by the chief's office or the governing board.
In an audit of the Gardiner Fire District, the OSC did not criticize Gardiner for holding in-house training courses; rather, it criticized them for not providing certificates of completion. This seems to imply that in-house training is acceptable, provided it can be differentiated from a drill (we suggest using the above definition as the differentiating factor).
In an audit of the Bridgehampton Fire District, the OSC criticized the Fire District for not following the chart provided in the statute.
There has been no guidance about how to interpret the chart for courses of 20 hours up to 45 hours. First, there is the difficult construction of the language; it says one point per hour for each hour over initial twenty hours, with a maximum of ten points. The problem is that the initial sub-set under (A) is 19 hours! (Courses under twenty hours duration). That leads to the question about what to do with a course of exactly 20 hours in length. It could be argued that a course of 20 hours is 5 points, and the extra point would not be awarded until a training class lasts 21 hours.
The typical interpretation is that for a training course of twenty hours to forty-five the chart provides for 5 points for the initial 19 hours (courses under 20 hours) then 1 point per hour for each hour from 20 and on, up to a maximum of 10. That means that a course of 20 hours is 6 points, 21 hours is 7 points, 22 hours is 8 points, 23 hours is 9 points, and a course that is from 24 to 45 hours is 10 points.
There is no additional guidance about what to do about a course that possibly lasts for less than an hour (like some online training classes), or ends on a fractional hour (as in, lasts 22.5 hours). Since the statute states points are earned "per hour" it seems that points should only be awarded for each complete hour of the training.
It seems appropriate to first address who actually adopts, or amends the point system. There is some confusing language in the statute that must be navigated through.
Section 217(c) of the General Municipal Law (GML) includes the following language: "Points shall be granted in accordance with a system adopted by the program sponsor. Such system shall provide that points shall be granted for activities designated by the program sponsor, which activities shall be selected from the following:"
The term "sponsor" is a defined term in Section 215(10) as: 10.“Sponsor” or “sponsoring organization” means a political subdivision which has established or jointly established a service award program, a volunteer fire company or department, or any other entity responsible for fire protection.
Including the the volunteer fire company or department in the definition of sponsor is challenging. It would seem to imply then that the fire company or department could be the entity that adopts the point system.
However, GML Section 216 is the section that provides the authorization to establish a LOSAP (we are conveniently ignoring 216-a, which is for special situations that don't apply to most municipalities), and it states "A service award program may be adopted only by resolution of the governing board of a political subdivision". It further states "The resolution authorizing the adoption of a service award program shall state...", and goes on to list several items, including "the activities for which points shall be granted toward a year of fire service". So it is clear that the political subdivision must include the Point System as part of the adopting resolution and therefore ultimately approves, or adopts, the Point System.
Section 216 continues to state "Except as otherwise provided in this paragraph once a service award program has been established, it may be abolished or amended in the same manner as it was created in accordance with the provisions of this article by following the procedures set forth in subdivision one or two of this section. The point system adopted by the governing board of the sponsor of a service award program pursuant to subdivision (c) of section two hundred seventeen of this article may be amended by the affirmative vote of at least sixty percent of such governing board, without referendum, provided, that, consistent with the provisions of subdivision (c) of section two hundred seventeen, the only effect of the amendment is to decrease the number of points granted for the performance of an activity, increase the amount of an activity required to earn the points granted for the performance of the activity, or both."
Therefore, to amend the LOSAP a political subdivision must adopt another resolution and have the amendment approved by referendum. This includes changes to the Point System if, essentially, the effect of the change is to make it easier to earn 50 points. If the change is to make it more difficult to earn 50 points, then the change can be made just by resolution of the governing board of the sponsor. So again, the confusion is raised by the use of the term "sponsor" and not "political subdivision". Additionally, would it make sense to allow a fire company to make some changes to the Point System but the political subdivision others? Possibly, especially since the changes that can be made by the "sponsor" are changes that make it harder to earn 50 points.
Ultimately, it appears that in view of all the applicable sections of the statute that the political subdivision is the one that should adopt the point system, despite the problematic language in Section 217. It also seems most appropriate that the political subdivision should adopt any changes, and at a minimum oversee and be made aware of any changes.
This is not typically a problem for Fire Districts, but can sometimes be an issue for Village fire companies and certainly for independent fire companies that contract with a Town. We have often seen where fire companies make changes to the point system without the Town (and sometimes Village) knowing. Therefore, the sponsoring political subdivision should make sure to at least review the listing submitted by the fire company each year to ensure nothing has changed, and the points are being tabulated in accordance with the latest Point System adopted by that political subdivision.