We discussed yesterday that all active volunteer firefighters are eligible to participate in a LOSAP in New York State.
The next question is – is a waiting period before an eligible volunteer can begin participating? We believe the answer is no.
We have reviewed many plans that will not allow a participant to participate in the first year of volunteering. They require that the volunteer wait until the first complete calendar year to participate. This is likely born from confusion about how the law was drafted. Here is the applicable section of Section 217:
An active volunteer firefighter must be eligible to participate in any service award program provided under this article if the active volunteer firefighter has reached the age of eighteen and has completed at least one year of firefighting service. The sponsor of the service award program may impose younger age or shorter length of service requirements for participation in the service award program.
We assume that some have interpreted the “one year of firefighting service” to mean that a sponsor can make a volunteer wait until after his/her 1-year anniversary to participate – meaning elapsed time. Especially since the statute then goes on to say the sponsor can impose a shorter length of service requirement.
However, the term “year of firefighting service” is a defined term:
11.“Year of firefighting service” means a twelve month period during which an active volunteer firefighter participates in the fire service and satisfies the minimum requirements of participation established by the sponsoring organization maintaining the program which shall be applied on a consistent and uniform basis, subject to the minimum standards established by the sponsoring organization.
Further, Section 217 goes on to say:
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 at least fifty points.
Given the totality of these sections of the statute, we believe that all a volunteer must do is earn 50 points during a year to earn service credit and be eligible for a benefit. That can be in the first year the volunteer joins, or even int he final year when the volunteer resigns. All the volunteer must do is earn 50 points. It would be nice if the language of the statue was more clear, but we believe this is the intent. Our position is further supported by audits performed by the Office of the State Comptroller, which has criticized LOSAP sponsors for not allowing “new” members to earn service credit during the first year, despite having earned 50 points.