*EDIT* – This blog post was based on the original version of the bill. You can read about the most current version by clicking here: covid-19-losap-bill-amended-progressing.html
Bill S8251 was introduced in the Senate on April 27, 2020. It was then amended May 6, 2020 to include an amendment to the sections of the General Municipal Law that govern the volunteer ambulance worker service award programs. The amended bill number is S8251-A. On May 11, 2020, a companion bill to S8251-A was then introduced in the Assembly. Therefore, we now have a bill in both houses, S8251-A / A10438. As of the date this post is being written, the bills have been referred to the respective Local Government Committee for consideration. A PDF of the bill is included at the bottom of this post. Keep in mind this is just a bill at this point – it is not law.
For volunteer firefighter programs, this bill essentially does two things:
- Allows a program sponsor to provide an additional five (5) points per month for each month that fire department activities are being impacted by the current COVID-19 pandemic. A pro-rated number of points can be awarded for a period of less than one month.
- Allows a program sponsor to modify the “participation in department responses” category to recognize that not all active volunteers have the same training and/or medical classification. It would allow the sponsor to assign calls to certain groups of firefighters based on their classification, and then firefighters in a specific group must respond to a minimum percentage of those assigned calls to earn the 25 points. For example, if a fire department responds to a total of 300 calls during a calendar year, but a certain group of active members is only assigned 200 of those calls, the firefighters in that group would have to respond to 20 calls (10%) to earn 25 points.
We were asked for our comments on this bill prior to the Assembly version being introduced and provided a detailed response. If you would like to review those comments, please contact us for a copy. They were intended not to be critical of the intent of the bills – we are thankful the legislature is considering how much the fire service has changed but the way LOSAP points can be earned has relatively stayed the same. Our intent is to improve the effectiveness of the legislation.
Here are our main comments that we think you should know about:
- Both of the new subdivisions are prefaced with the word “may”, which implies they will be optional and not mandatory.
- Requiring a full five points per month to be awarded seems overly restrictive. It would seem reasonable to allow a sponsor to grant up to five points per month. In some departments, there may not be five activities in a typical month, or even 15 activities over a 3-month period. A sponsor should be free to award the number of points it deems necessary based on the typical activities of the fire department.
- The five points per month appears to be additional, which would mean over-and-above points for activities that firefighters are able to attend (training, video meetings, certain miscellaneous events, etc.).
- The five points per month specifically applies only to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
- The authorization to modify the department responses category is not specific to the COVID-19 pandemic and, therefore, would permanently change how points could be earned.
- The department responses category is the only activity-based category in which a volunteer is not directly awarded points for attending the activity. This all-or-nothing approach to earning 25 points for department responses creates a situation where a volunteer who attends more calls than the minimum required amount is not rewarded with more points for those responses. However, under the current arrangement, each volunteer of a specific department has the same minimum standard to earn the 25 points. By having a lower response standard for certain groups of volunteers, in terms of total calls required, it could be viewed that the statute is making it easier for some firefighters to earn the 25 points. From a percentage standpoint it would likely remain the same (depending on number of calls assigned to each group due to the percentage breakpoints at 500, 1,000 and 1,500 calls). It is certainly time, and makes complete sense, to consider some alternative approach to department responses (see comment #8). However, awarding the same number of points (25) for different levels of activity (responses) could lead to internal morale complications.
- A volunteer’s classification could change mid-year due to a change in training or medical certifications. This would lead to a fire department having to track which volunteers were able to attend a specific call based on the volunteer’s grouping at that time, creating a volunteer-by-volunteer minimum response requirement.
- The volunteer ambulance LOSAP statute allows a sponsor to bypass the minimum percentage of response approach, and instead credit up to one-half a point per response. It could be time to consider allowing sponsors of volunteer firefighter LOSAPs the same option, but that would take another legislative bill.
It should not be assumed that these bills will be passed by the legislature and signed into law. Therefore, fire departments and sponsors should continue to come up with creative ways to hold activities and/or develop strategies for volunteers to earn points in 2020. At least we now have some possible legislative relief. Additionally, if this bill becomes law, it would appear to be optional, so sponsors could still be free to look to alternative approaches.
If you have specific questions about the bill, we encourage you to leave your comments below, as others may have the same questions and/or concerns. Ultimately, if the bill as currently constructed does become law, program sponsors will have to lean on their local attorney to navigate some of the vague nuances of the bill.