Maryland Overtime-Pay Case Offers A Warning For The Fire Service

Last December's well-publicized U.S. Supreme Court decision not to hear an appeal of West v. Anne Arundel County (Maryland) left some local government officials reeling. Groups representing cities, counties and other local governments fear that the...


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According to International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) lobbyist Gary Horewitz, the bill provides a definition of fire protection activities that reflects today's fire service, where currently there is none. As Horewitz notes, we are in the business of responding to emergencies of all types, not just fires.

Significantly, both the IAFC and the International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFC) support H.R. 1693. It is not common for these groups to agree on matters of labor law, but both recognize the potential long-term consequences that the West decision could have on the fire service.

Rogers noted that departments can take steps to prevent the problems that Anne Arundel County encountered. Career departments with cross-trained firefighters need to study their personnel staffing patterns to assess potential liability. It is important to determine how much time is spent on non-fire-related activities. This is far more complex than merely looking at the numbers of EMS calls. It is important to understand the nuances of the law as well as the U.S. Department of Labor's regulations. After doing the research and documenting the department's practices, Rogers recommends seeking a private ruling from the U.S. Department of Labor regarding compliance with the FLSA.

Fire service leaders from the mid-Atlantic region recently gathered to discuss the implications of the West decision. They wanted insights on how Anne Arundel County was planning to comply with the ruling. However, it was distressing to learn that some chiefs apparently have not educated themselves regarding the law, or have not adequately analyzed their departments' situations. Some at the meeting apparently did not want to recognize the potential liability exposure they face as a result of the West decision.

Failing to do so is dangerous. There is much to be learned from the Anne Arundel experience. With the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the West case, there is the potential that this ruling, which now applies in only one region, could be expanded to other areas by other courts. Every fire department that performs EMS (or other non-fire suppression) functions should look carefully at its staffing patterns to identify potential liability.


Steve Blackistone, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is an attorney and a member of the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Rescue Squad in Montgomery County, MD.