With greater frequency we are handling questions about a fire department wanting to implement duty crews to ensure they have adequate staffing to respond to emergencies. This is a common practice with ambulance squads, but I’m sure anyone reading this blog doesn’t need us to explain how operationally different an ambulance call is vs a fire call. That said, the types of calls that fire department are responding too are changing – they aren’t always structure fires were the whole department is needed. And moreover, it isn’t ideal for 20 members to respond to an automatic alarm or something that could be easily handled by much fewer volunteers.
It makes sense for a department to adopt a duty-crew program. The question we get, of course, is how does this fit into the point system.
There are two things to address: (1) Can someone get a point (or points) just for serving on the duty-crew? (2) How does a person serving just for a specific time period reach the minimum call requirement to earn 25 points?
Ultimately, we believe the law should be amended. That is the best answer. Since ambulance squads already operate in this way, Articles 11-AA and 11-AAA have options for awarding points for “tours of duty” (1 point for a 6-hour shift) and also include an alternative way to award points for calls (up to 1/2 point per call). Since these options are already available in State Law, it would make sense to essentially “cut and paste” that authority into Article 11-A. Firefly has written proposed amendment to Article 11-A and have provided them to the State-wide associations for consideration. If you would like more details, please contact us! But ultimately, a proposed amendment to the law does not help a fire department today grappling with this issue. So what can be done?
To award points for someone serving on a duty-crew, the current statute would seem to allow two options:
- Call these duty-crew periods a “stand-by” and therefore give the volunteers serving on the duty crew a point for a stand-by. The challenge with this approach is the definition of a stand-by, which is a “line of duty activity of the volunteer fire company, lasting for four hours, not falling under one of the other categories” Since a duty-crew would be a subset of the entire fire company, a sponsor would have to be comfortable making an interpretation that this language does not imply that the entire fire company/department must be on stand-by to meet this definition.
- Call the period that the duty-crew is on call to be a miscellaneous activity.
Perhaps more complicated is the department responses. Currently, a volunteer must to attend a minimum percentage of calls for the year to earn 25 points for each type of call. In a department with less than 500 calls, that percentage is 10%. If a volunteer signed up for a duty-crew every Sunday night, and only 5% of the total fire department calls happen on a Sunday night, that person would fall short of the 10% requirement unless he/she responded at other times as well. Or, if 15% of the calls happen on a Sunday night, those on the duty-crew might make the minimum percentage but other volunteers not on the duty-crew would have fewer number of total calls to respond to in order to reach their minimum (85% in this scenario).
The facts and circumstances of the local department will go a long way in deciding what to do about the calls. One approach could just be that the requirement is 10% (or lower as call volume exceeds 500) and a volunteer who takes enough duty-crews, or responds when there is no duty-crew assigned, will attend enough calls to meet the minimum percentage. Ultimately, we would expect some calls cannot be handled by the duty-crew and the entire department will have to be activated. We assume the purpose of the duty-crew would be to handle routine emergencies where a smaller crew of 4-8 people can adequately handle the situation. But structure fires or some other larger-scale operation will happen where the entire membership will be needed. That will provide additional opportunities.
The only other available option is the new amendment that was just made to the statute. You can read more about it in one of our past blog posts HERE. There are many reasons why we are not a fan of this new law, which are outlined in the article. But it could have a benefit here.
This new statute says that if response protocols are adopted that set different response requirements for different units or groups of the fire department, that those units/groups only have to attend the minimum percentage of the calls assigned to those units/groups. Typically a duty-crew would not be a static, defined, unit. The personnel on call during any one tour of duty would likely change week-to-week. If they were a static crew, then the idea of a crew being assigned the calls during that period makes this option something worth considering. However, it would seem anyone on a duty-crew should, in theory, respond to 100% of the calls they were assigned during the period. Or at least it would be certainty that they would attend 10% of them! Therefore, 25 points for calls would basically be an automatic.
It would seem that ultimately using this approach would be an administrative challenge and an inequitable way to earn 25 points for calls. Trying to determine what calls each individual were assigned and what units or groups they are a part of at any one time would likely prove difficult. A lot depends on the individual department and how calls are handled. But this is the only solution, under the current law, that would allow a sponsor to try and address how points could be earned for department responses when duty-crews are implemented.
Given that we have no expertise in operating a volunteer fire department, we likely missed some things! We’d love your feedback and insight – contact us with your questions or additional feedback.
And as always, we suggest running all of this by your attorney, as this information is meant to be a general, theoretic discussion and we do not provide legal advice.