We were asked if a person on a leave of absence from the fire department can earn points for attending online meetings and trainings.
First, we cannot give legal advice, and this post is not intended to be legal advice. If you have a similar question and this blog post is helpful, we suggest sharing it with your attorney and getting his/her counsel before formalizing any course of action.
Before we address this particular question, we think it would be helpful to read a post we wrote about eligibility to participate in LOSAP. You can read that here: https://www.fireflyadmin.com/blog/eligibility-to-participate-in-losap
To summarize that post, it would appear that only active volunteer firefighters who are subject to a call to duty when the department is activated for an alarm are eligible to earn points. In our view, we also believe that matches the spirit and intent of the LOSAP – to recruit, retain, and reward individuals that are trained and responding to emergencies.
The next point to discuss is the purpose of a leave of absence. Being an active volunteer firefighter comes with certain responsibilities and requirements as stipulated in the by-laws or similar document. Simply put, we assume the purpose of requesting a leave of absence is to be temporarily relieved of those responsibilities and requirements. Therefore, someone requesting to be placed on a leave of absence is effectively requesting to remove him/herself from participating in any activities that an active volunteer firefighter is required to participate in.
Looking at it this way, this question then becomes a by-law enforcement issue rather than a LOSAP issue. Again, we are assuming someone applies for a leave of absence because they cannot fulfill all the duties required of an active volunteer firefighter, including training and meetings. So to us, this is an issue of properly enforcing by-laws. At a minimum, the by-laws should be reviewed to determine what a firefighter is permitted to do while on a leave of absence.
Another factor to consider is VFBL coverage, and how a leave of absence impacts coverage. Although many don’t like to think about the possibility of getting hurt, accidents happen and injuries can occur. We are not experts in VFBL coverage, but it is our understanding that individuals on a leave of absence from the fire department are no longer covered by VFBL. For that reason alone, these individuals should not be permitted to participate in any activities during the leave of absence.
With these two points in mind, a question about whether-or-not a volunteer can earn points while on a leave of absence seems almost moot. A volunteer on a leave of absence should not be participating in activities, so therefore points cannot be earned!
But with the advent of online training courses and online department meetings, an individual on leave could conceivably participate in those activities. We can think of a few legitimate scenarios, such as someone on a school leave or someone on an extended medical leave due to a non-line-of-duty injury. These individuals could easily participate in a meeting via zoom. We don't have the expertise in VFBL coverage to know if coverage extends to participating in an online meeting or training. While it would seem that an online meeting/training would have significantly less injury risk than a meeting/training held at the firehouse, the online activity is still a fire department event. You should confirm coverage for online meetings & trainings with your attorney or VFBL carrier.
Ignoring the VFBL issue for now, presumably an individual on a leave of absence as an active volunteer firefighter retains some rights and privileges associated with the social side of membership in a department; however, a social-only member is not eligible to earn points. Again, by extension, it would seem logical that an individual on a leave of absence would not be eligible to earn points for attending a meeting by zoom since the individual is temporarily not an active volunteer firefighter.
Although we would assume a social-only member would not be taking online training courses, it would stand to reason the same logic would apply to an individual on a leave of absence – that person should likely not be allowed to participate in the online training. But that is a policy that must be controlled locally.
If you or your attorney have any questions, comments, or disagreements with our thought process, please share in the comments below! Again, we suggest forwarding this to your legal counsel and VFBL carrier for additional guidance.