Background Checks – Fire Company and Fire District Responsibilities
Background Checks – – Fire Company and Fire District Responsibilities
Greg Serio – CAFDA Legal Counsel
As with so much of the law pertaining to the volunteer fire service and fire districts, section 837-o of the state Executive Law (contained within Article 35 relating to the Division of Criminal Justice Services) is rather prescriptive governance over arson and sexual offense conviction (specifically requiring registration as a sex offender) searches for prospective firefighters. Also with respect to the legal labyrinth that fire districts routinely navigate, some practices arising from these legal obligations have strayed from the clear prescriptive language of our statutes, including this provision of law.
Questions routinely arise in fire company meetings, fire district commissioners’ meetings and elsewhere about who is specifically responsible for assuring that such searches are done, and when they are to be done. Oftentimes, a candidate is presented to a fire district prior to a background check being done. Other times, a member of a fire company is accepted prior to a search even being conducted. A review of section 837-o is helpful for clarifying the division of labor between fire companies and fire districts, and when exactly such background checks should be completed.
A parsing of the statute provides a convenient and complete process for satisfying the statutory requirement for arson and sexual offense conviction searches to be done. First, the law requires that a prospective member of a fire company, upon application, to acquiesce to a background check. That authorization, and the notice that a search is to be made, comes in the form of an application for a search provided by the DCJS. Within ten days of receiving the authorization to the search, the fire chief is to send the search request form to the local sheriff or the Office of Fire Prevention and Control. The sheriff and OFPC has ten days to direct the search request to the DCJS.
The chief then is to receive a written response from the sheriff or OFPC within ten days of their receipt of search results back from the DCJS. The response will only say if the applicant has been convicted of either an arson or sex crime, and the response is to remain confidential.
So, up to this point in time of the process, a few things are apparent: an application for membership has been made, but not acted upon pending the background check, the sheriff or OFPC works with the DCJS to get the background information, and the result is sent back to the chief. Up to this point, the applicant should not have been accepted for membership; they may have been denied, for other reasons. If the report is clean, and no conviction is found, then the applicant can be presented for a vote of the fire company for membership.
Oftentimes, fire companies accept someone for probationary membership and then submit the name for the search. I would argue that that process is not in keeping with section 837-o. What happens to a membership that has been granted prior to a search? Fire companies are then in the uncomfortable position of having to unwind a membership application acceptance. Importantly, subsection (c) of section 837-o specifically anticipates this sequence by speaking about an “ineligibility for membership” if the search comes back with a conviction found. It is consistent with the statute to not confer any notion of membership until the search is completed.
If a search does come back with a conviction on the applicant’s record, the company has a duty to the applicant to inform them of “rights to challenge and appeal the information contained in the record of conviction….The applicant shall continue to be barred from membership until all administrative and judicial challenges…are ultimately resolved in his or her favor….”
For fire districts, therefore, there should be no entertaining of any notification that the company has accepted a new member for active duty in the fire department and, therefore, under the responsibility of the fire district both as the final arbiter of membership, per section 176-b of the Town Law as well as their employer, unless that member has in fact been cleared of their background check. Fire chiefs, under the law, are directed to order searches on prospective company members as the head of the fire company and not necessarily as a subordinated officer of the board of fire commissioners. Just as we are looking to clean up practices between company and district concerning membership, like making certain that notification of new members is communicated from the company secretary to the district secretary (also provided for in section 176-b), in writing, hopefully this note will help improve practices concerning consideration of prospective members as intended in section 837-o.
VOTE – VOTE – VOTE – VOTE GET INVOLVED AND VOTE!!
Proposed Assoc. of Fire Districts of New York State By-Laws Amendment
To provide for in person or proxy voting
Presently, in order to vote in elections and other business at the AFDSNY Annual Meeting, member districts must vote in person at the site of the Annual Meeting which is costly and inconvenient.
An amendment has been proposed that would allow for voting in person OR voting by proxy. The logistics for the proxy voting would be established by the Association Board of Directors. The important issue is that presently member districts must vote in person. If you pay dues, you should be able to VOTE.
Many feel that all member districts should be able to vote in matters that affect the Association which is a NYS Not-For-Profit organization financed by taxpayer funding. When you pay your dues and become a member, you should be able to VOTE.
The election of officers and voting on by-laws amendments is very important. In the past several years, about 15% of the Association membership is making decisions for the Association.
In order to get this proposed amendment approved, a 2/3 vote is necessary. Therefore, it is vitally important to encourage a fire district official from your fire district to come to the Turning Stone on Friday May 18, 2023 at 4PM to vote. Each member fire district is allowed one vote – and the vote must be cast by a fire district official. (Commissioner, Treasurer, Deputy Treasurer)
This is the opportunity to “have your voice heard” and provide for each fire district to have a voice in elections and other business of the association.
West Crescent Fire District Seeking Station Keeper
West Crescent Fire District
The West Crescent Fire District is looking for a professional and highly motivated person to perform custodial services and to maintain fire district buildings, grounds and equipment. Must have good communication skills, the ability to manage several projects simultaneously, be flexible with work hours when necessary. Prior experience preferred and all candidates must have clean driver’s license. Employment application and job description can be found on the district website at www.westcrescentfire.com or by emailing Fire District Secretary Arthur Hunsinger at email@example.com
Please send application, cover letter & resume to Arthur Hunsinger via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Position Announcement Station Keeper/Maintenance Person
Full Time (40 hours/week) hourly position, commensurate with experience. Benefits available (health and disability insurance, vacation, sick days, holidays, retirement).
- Minimum High School diploma or equivalent
- Relevant work or experience
- Pass District Physical, able to lift objects weighing 70 lbs.
- Preference given to those candidates at least 21 years of age
- Ability to understand and carry out instructions.
- Ability to deal with the public and work successfully with other employees and members of the Fire Department
Familiarity with equipment found in fire stations.
- Experience with cleaning and light building maintenance.
- Ability to perform minor mechanical repairs.
- Initiative, resourcefulness and good judgement.
- Basic computer knowledge for data entry.
- Hold a valid NYS vehicle operator’s license. A CDL-B license will be required within six (6) months of employment, to include Air Brake Endorsement. Driver’s license will be enrolled in the NYS License Event Notification Service. License acceptable to Fire District’s insurance carrier · Background check for Arson Conviction and Sex Offender Registry.
- Preference may be given to an active SCBA qualified member in a local fire department.
- Need to be CPR/AED Certified
General Statement of Duties and Responsibilities:
- Performs work under the general direction of the Building Committee Chairman and Fire District Secretary, as directed by the Board of Fire Commissioners
- Maintain Fire District buildings, grounds and equipment.
- Provide custodial type services at District Office and firehouse
- Other duties as assigned and approved by the Board of Fire Commissioners
- Within one (1) year of hire date, must be a qualified driver and pump operator on all District vehicles. (Training will be permitted on District time).
Examples of Work to be performed:
- Mowing and trimming of lawns, pruning and mulching, rake and remove leaves/debris as necessary.
- Custodial type services including but not limited to: mopping, vacuuming, washing, scrubbing, cleaning windows, buffing, carpet cleaning, and garbage removal.
- Paint interior/exterior of buildings as needed; power wash exterior buildings as necessary.
- Responsible for maintenance and upkeep of vehicles and equipment provided by the Board of Fire Commissioners to complete duties.
- Assist in the coordination of fire apparatus and equipment. Clean, fuel, maintain and transport apparatus and equipment as necessary.
- Assist in coordination of various equipment testing (i.e. hose, ladder, pump).
- Create written correspondence, generate maintenance records as necessary, enter data into fire district software and create reports as needed.
Last Commissioner Training offered by the Capital Area Association
The last course being offered by the Capital Area will be held at Berkshire Fire District in Fulton County at 320 Steele Ave Extension, just west of the intersection of Route 29 at Route 30. Saturday March 25th at 8am. Lite breakfast and a lunch will be served. Reserve your seat at CAAOFD@gmail.com, payments will be accepted at the door. Training Certificates will be provided so please make reservations so that certificates can be prepared in advance.
All Members and Business Partners are Invited to Our Annual Officer’s Reception
Open your invitation and RSVP at this link. Mark your calendar for March 11th and we will see you at the Embassy Suites in Saratoga Springs to share the evening.
View the Final Report of the NYS VFF Task Force
Here is a link to the final report of the Volunteer Firefighter Recruitment and Retention Task Force.
Directors and Officers Vote to Change Name
At their reorganizational meeting the Directors and Officers have changed the name of this organization to be Capital Area Fire Districts Association or (CAFDA). Within the next few months we will be introducing a new logo also. The new name emphasizes the location of organization and also notes that the many members come from areas surrounding the Capital District which is normally thought of as Albany-Troy-Schenectady. Our association is much larger and includes members from 8 counties many outside of the defined capital district. The Capital Area covers a land mass as large as the State of Connecticut and includes approximately 98 fire districts.
Additional Information on the “new” Property Tax Exemption
REAL PROPERTY TAX LAW SIGNED BY THE GOVERNOR ON 12/09/2022
Now that the bill is signed, we now need to encourage our local government to vote to provide a property tax exemption to our volunteer firefighters, and volunteer EMS providers.
This change in the real property tax law will allow any county to adopt a local law that will provide an exemption on real property owned by an enrolled member of an incorporated volunteer fire company, department, or voluntary ambulance service.
The change in the law will exempt up to 10% of the assessed value for members who served a minimum of two years. The law would require localities that currently provide the exemption adopt a local law to conform to this provision.
LINK TO BILL:
Parsing the Document Bill Number S9131:
- Amends the real property tax law by adding new section 466-A*2
- Signed by the Governor on 12/9/22 Chapter 670
- Provides all local governments with the option to provide a property tax exemption to volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers.
- Provides a tax exemption to enrolled members of an incorporated volunteer fire company or incorporated voluntary ambulance service.
- Shall be exempt from taxation to the extent of up to ten percent of the assessed value of such property for city, village, town, part town, special district, school district, fire district or county purposes, exclusive of special assessments, provided that the governing body of a city, village, town, school district, fire district or county, after a public hearing, adopts a local law, ordinance or resolution providing therefor.
- The property is the primary residence of the applicant. (can’t be taken for a summer home, camp etc.)
- Exemptions only apply to residential property.
- In summation, the bill would allow any county to adopt a local law (let’s put that another way, it allows any local jurisdiction within any county to adopt a local law) that will provide an exemption on real property owned by an enrolled member of an incorporated volunteer fire company, department, or voluntary ambulance service. The bill would exempt up to 10% of the assessed value for members who served a minimum of two years. The bill would require localities that currently provide the exemption adopt a local law to conform to this provision.
- Volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers provide a significant benefit to residents and taxpayers through their countless hours of service protecting our communities. Currently, less than half of counties in New York are authorized to provide a local property tax exemption benefit to qualifying volunteer firefighter and ambulance workers. This bill seeks to provide a statewide option for all local governments to offer up to a 10% exemption of assessed value to eligible volunteers. This bill provides for flexibility in administering this property tax exemption by giving local governments discretion in adopting a local law or ordinance. By expanding the opportunity to provide this critical tax exemption, it will help improve recruitment and retention of our volunteer fire and ambulance services.
- Any city, village, town, school district, fire district or county that currently, through local law, ordinance or resolution, provides an exemption from taxation for an enrolled member of an incorporated volunteer fire company, fire department or incorporated voluntary ambulance service, such enrolled member and spouse, or an un-remarried spouse shall be authorized to continue to provide such exemption, provided however, such city, village, town, school district, fire district or county shall adopt a local law, ordinance or resolution to conform to the provisions of this section no later than three years after the effective date of this section. (In other words, the old tax exemption law and its language go away!)
CAPITAL AREA PROVIDING MANDATED COMMISSIONER TRAINING SANCTIONED BY NYS-OSC
MANDATED COMMISSIONER TRAINING SANCTIONED BY NYS-OSC, JUST $85.00 PER ATTENDEE!
Saturday, February 11, 2023 8:00 AM 6 hour Commissioner Training Averill Park, Rensselaer Co. w/Greg Serio
Saturday, March 4, 2023 8:00 AM 6 hour Commissioner Training Clifton Park Saratoga Co. w/Greg Serio
Saturday, March 25, 2023 8:00 AM 6 hour Commissioner Training Berkshire Fire District Fulton, Co. w/Greg Serio
SAVE A SEAT, PAY AT THE DOOR, BUT MAKE A RESERVATION NOW!
REGISTER AT CAAOFD@GMAIL.COM
NYS-Volunteer Firefighter Cancer Disability Benefit Program Reporting Dates!!
As we all know, cancer prevention in the fire service is more important now than ever. Studies have shown that our firefighters have a greater risk of being diagnosed with cancer that the general public. We remind all our members that the NYS Volunteer Firefighter Enhanced Cancer Disability Benefits Law (NYS General Municipal Law 205-cc), requires annual reporting by fire districts. Annual reports are due to OFPC on December 1st, 2022.
Please see the letter from James Cable, State Fire Administrator, https://afdca.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/11/VFECDB-Final-10-14-22.docx.pdfon (LINK TO SFA LETTER)
the upcoming due dates and requirements. It is important to continue increasing cancer awareness and prevention to assure our firefighters’ health and wellness. NYS Office of Fire Prevention and Control provides excellent Firefighter Health and Wellness Presentations. Please contact Fire Protection Specialist, Timothy Graves at email@example.com or (518)-292-2355 for more information.
Remember to complete the required reports and submit them by their due dates.
Due by December 1, 2022, Fire District, department or company annual claims report EOSB-210.8C. Your insurance company is able to provide a report that includes this information. [https://www.dhses.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2021/12/eosb210-8c.pdf]
Due by December 1, 2022, Annual Roster of Interior Fire Fighters EOSB-210.8R. This should include the list of a department’s interior firefighters from 2022 or if you have purchased an enhanced plan, all firefighters covered by your insurance plan. [https://www.dhses.ny.gov/system/files/documents/2022/10/210.8r.pdf]
Due by January 1, 2023, Volunteer Firefighter Enhanced Cancer Disability Benefits Program
Attestation/Proof of Benefits EOSB-210.5 along with a copy of the cover sheet of the insurance policy.
Commissioner Training in the Capital Area for 2023
Only $85.00 per person for the State Mandated Commissioner Training, 3 sessions available in the Capital Region. Attendees outside of the 7 county region are invited to attend any one of the sessions
All three sessions being taught by Attorney and Past Chief of the Verdoy Fire Department Greg Serio
Find the information you need at this link: Comm Training Schedule
REGISTER AT: firstname.lastname@example.org; include your name, fire district and email address
Capital Area Meeting & Training Schedule for 2023
Download the Meeting/Training Schedule for 2023 at this link:
2023 AFDCA Meeting Schedule