View Poll Results: Do you feel that we should be able to vol. in the jurisdictions we work

Voters
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  • Yes, absolutely without question

    18 52.94%
  • Yes, but only if a waiver is filed

    3 8.82%
  • Not really, it raises to many legal questions

    1 2.94%
  • No, absolutely not

    10 29.41%
  • No opinion one way or the other

    2 5.88%
  1. #1
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    Unhappy Volunteerism being blocked

    I have a situation that recently cropped up in my being able to volunteer with my local fire department. I am hoping someone can provide some pointers as I have been with my VFD for some time now and do not wish to leave.

    Background:

    I work part time for a local county run EMS service as a paramedic and work several shifts a month to assist them with staffing, keep my skills up, and provide a little recreational money on the side.

    I have also been volunteering with my local VFD in the same county as above mentioned EMS since prior to working with EMS and it was in fact working with the VFD that led me to complete my medic training.

    Our VFD works under a mutual aid contract the above county with the local city's paid fire department and is an independently incorporated body with it own board of directors, disciplinary procedures, scheduling and all activities of the department are controlled internally. The only time we fall under the orders of the paid department or EMS is when responding on a call. The county EMS chief also has oversight authority over all the county VFD's but has no authority to discipline ANY member of the VFD. In fact the ONLY way the local paid FD or EMS can exert disciplinary control over the VFD's is through removal of our certificate of need and mutual aid agreements and effectively disbanding the VFD but no single member can be disciplined.

    When responding as a VFD member all responders are required by the medical director to respond ONLY as a first responder without regard to their level of medical training. This is clearly spelled out in the Medical director's SOP's.

    The Problem:
    As stated above I work with EMS and volunteer with the VFD, recently our EMS chief has issued a memo creating a rule that no EMS employee can work in a response capacity with any VFD. He cites liability concerns as his reason for this order. He has not delineated the concerns that have been raised and does not appear willing to. The only concern he has specifically mentioned is FLSA which to my research is not a concern any more when you read the letters of opinion placed out by the US Department Of Labor.


    Question:
    1) has anyone else had similar instances happen

    2) what can you see as some of the concerns that are not being laid on the table

    3) does this seem fair when someone desires to donate his/her time to help their community to refuse to allow it.

    4) what recourse would someone have in a position such as this.

  2. #2
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    achief15's Avatar
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    Default

    This can get a little confusing, but if the EMS division has management authrority over your VFD, then FLSA most likely prohibits volunteering where you work. The law was put there to keep employeers from coercing workers into working for no pay, to keep "in" with management. There are strong opinions from both sides of this law. Part of the EMS Chief's issue may be the FLSA ruling. If you are in a totally seperate, private non-profit VFD, then perhaps then the law would not dictate that you may not volunteer there. His issue of liability is valid, if the VFD runs first responder level only, but you, being a career EMS and presumably ALS, act outside of the first responder care level, then yes I can see a potential liability. And it won't be from the ones you save with your skills. If during the call you put on your EMS hat, then EMS has to pay you.

    A labor attorney could give you a better answer, so you may want to seek an opinion. (maybe they will give you an answer for free or at a reduced fee) If it affects many in your fire department, then the fire chief needs to have a discussion with the EMS chief and work their concerns out.

    As I said earlier, this is a really confusing area, and you will need guidance from someone more experienced in this matter. You are certainly not the first one to go through this. Hopefully more experienced folks will post here too.
    Glenn Rainey
    Colington Fire Department
    Dare County, North Carolina
    The Outer Banks

  3. #3
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    Firstly, in answering such a question, it'd be helpful to at least know what state you're in, as state laws vary widely on the subjects of EMS providers (both on- and off-duty), as well as liability issues.

    His issue of liability is valid, if the VFD runs first responder level only, but you, being a career EMS and presumably ALS, act outside of the first responder care level, then yes I can see a potential liability.
    If such a liability issue were to arise, it would be against the VFD, since you are acting as their "employee", rather than the EMS agency.
    I find it very hard to believe that an EMS Medical Director cannot take action against a responder falling under his EMS System's direction... after all, you may be acting under the VFD's auspices, but you are still responsible to his standing orders, policies, protocols, and procedures, are you not? If you're responsible to them, then he has disciplinary authority over you.
    Therefore, he can take whatever action allowed by law against your Paramedic license that he sees fit, should you violate an EMS policy, procedure, protocol, or standing order...regardless of whether you're acting as an on-duty EMS provider, on-duty Firefighter, or off-duty Joe Blow citizen on the street.

    In this particular case you present, FLSA is not an issue. FLSA only applies when you're talking about the same employing entity... e.g.--you are a civil service employee of the County, working as a Dispatcher/Clerk for the SD, and want to volunteer as a Reserve Deputy Sheriff for your County SO. That's a no-go, because you're wanting to work for the same entity.

    However, FLSA does not prohibit you from going to the city next door and volunteering as a Reserve Police Officer for their PD.
    If FLSA applied as the good Chief (achief) implies, nobody would be able to have a second job or volunteer for a nonprofit organization (which a Volunteer Fire Dept/Company is) without their employers fearing FLSA action.
    Further, what about those who work full-time for FD, and are P/T or volly for an ambulance company? Or vice-versa (full-time ambulance co., p/t or volly FF)? In California, there are many such "cross-overs"...again this applies only when talking about different agencies (i.e.--if you're a f/t EMT for a city where EMS is provided by the city itself, not a contracted private ambulance company, you'd have to go be a volly FF for a different city/county).

    Granted, I'm not a labor lawyer, but I do have a decent education in principles of law, and a good working knowledge of laws governing non-profits (as well as a general knowledge of CA law)... 'course none of this is intended as legal advice, blah-blah, consult with an attorney before taking action, yackity-smackity you get the gist. :-)

  4. #4
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    Default Similar

    We could be from the same location. Here's our situation. We have our local county EMS provided by the hospital. Our VFD contracted to the county to provide fire service with some backing from paid personnel respond as EMT-Basic first responders (in a system that would be better if our dispatchers could do there job, but I'll save that for another post). Anyay, many of our paramedics are also volunteer firefighters. When a firefighter we only operate as basics. There's no conflict of interest or liability even with the same medical director. Just because paramedics are trained to do something doesn't mean they have to do it. I'm a paramedic and still quite capable of operating as a basic.

  5. #5
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    This is a "Fire Department" correct? How can an "EMS Chief" impact other Fire Organizations without discussions on policy?

    I would think that there needs to be some Chief Officer level meetings going on that address this issue. Unless you have totally lost the concept of "Fire Department" I can not see how an "EMS" organization can dictate what the "Fire Department" does outside of an "EMS" topic.

  6. #6
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    I've said before and I'll say it again:
    What you are seeing is an employer trying to legislate their employees' off time.
    First of all, when I was chief of our fire department, if any agency attempted to gut my roster by saying their "employees" could not volunteer, they would have been nose to nose with me in a very heated discussion.
    Employers want to throw down the "liability" issues or the insurance (workers' comp) issues, not because they could get hurt but because they may get stuck with "aggravating a pre-existing condition".
    It's sort of a retaliation for all of the years of claims against their companies by folks who bring the condition with them, work just long enough to "aggravate" it and have their medical and time off paid for.
    I see it all the time. I handle work comp for my company and the only way to combat it is with a comprehensive pre-employment physical and then there is no guarantee.
    Forbidding people from volunteering for firefighting would be like me saying to our employees that they can't ride motorcycles, rock climb or hand glide because there is a potential to get hurt. It's rubbish.
    Oh; they'll let you volunteer in your community...adopt a highway, Lions Club, Tree City USA; pretty inoccuous stuff.
    I simply would not work for an employer who would limit my off duty time. It would never end there.
    They pay you; they don't OWN you.
    CR
    Visit www.iacoj.com
    Remember Bradley Golden (9/25/01)
    RIP HOF Robert J. Compton(ENG6511)

  7. #7
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    Forbidding people from volunteering for firefighting would be like me saying to our employees that they can't ride motorcycles, rock climb or hand glide because there is a potential to get hurt. It's rubbish.
    Oh; they'll let you volunteer in your community...adopt a highway, Lions Club, Tree City USA; pretty inoccuous stuff.
    I simply would not work for an employer who would limit my off duty time. It would never end there.
    They pay you; they don't OWN you.
    Seconded, Chief. My full-time employer recently held a "safety conference" for managers and senior supervisors, and one of the issues that was brought up was exactly this: taking steps to "limit risky off-duty behavior" in order to keep the health insurance claims to a minimum, thus saving the company money.
    Thankfully, Firefighting wasn't mentioned in the list of "risky behaviors" (which included recreational motorcycle riding--a la "Runs" & such)...otherwise they would've gotten quite an earful from yours truly.

    This sadly seems to be a growing trend--companies intruding on their employees' private, off-duty time and home lives in this manner... and there doesn't seem to be any reliable means of fighting it. After all, they pay the money that you need to make the ends meet... if you don't "play ball", there's someone else out there just waiting for a chance at your job, who will accept the treatment that comes with it, and the companies know it.

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