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.