News

AMENDMENT TO STATUTE ALLOWS A CHANGE TO THE DEPT. RESPONSES POINT SYSTEM CATEGORY

October 15th, 2021

Contributed by Tony Hill

A bill that allows a LOSAP sponsor to change the department responses category of its point system was signed by Governor Hochul as Chapter 462 of the Laws of 2021.

This new law allows a LOSAP sponsor to adjust the department responses category of its point system to recognize that some groups of volunteers may be restricted from responding to certain types of calls. 

As a reminder, the department responses category provides that 25 points are earned by a volunteer who attends a minimum number of the fire department’s total calls for the year. For departments that also have a rescue/ambulance unit, an additional 25 points can be earned for attending a minimum number of those calls as well. The minimum number is based on a percentage of the total calls for the year. For example, if a department has 400 calls during a year, a volunteer must respond to 40 (10%) in order to earn 25 points. The department responses category is unique from other categories since it is an all-or-nothing category – either a volunteer responds to at least the minimum number and earns 25 points or does not and earns zero (0) points

If a volunteer is restricted from attending some calls, it limits the opportunity to respond to the minimum to earn the 25 points. For example, if a certain volunteer is restricted from responding to 50 of those 400 total calls, that volunteer would have to respond to 40 of the other 350 calls – a little more than 11%. The new law allows a LOSAP sponsor to change the requirement for this volunteer from 10% of 400 calls to 10% of 350 calls, or 35, to earn 25 points. This new statute will help many fire departments better align awarding points for calls with the department’s operations. 

If a LOSAP sponsor chooses to adjust its point system for this change, no referendum is required – only a resolution of the LOSAP sponsor governing board (at least 60% approval) is needed. However, it states that an adjustment to the point system must be in response to written emergency response protocols adopted by the sponsor. (The use of the term sponsor here is potentially problematic, as a village or town isn’t likely setting emergency response protocols for a department.) The statute elaborates that these protocols may be related to a determination made by the district/department physician regarding the duties that a volunteer may be assigned. Since the word may is used, that implies it is not the only determining factor that could be used when a sponsor adopts these written emergency response protocols.

The adjustment would become effective the January 1st following the date the sponsoring board adopts the resolution, unless the written emergency response protocols were enacted as a result of a state disaster emergency. The wording of the amendment is not completely clear regarding this case – if the amendment can be made effective in the year the resolution is adopted by the board, or when the written emergency response protocols were adopted, or even when the state disaster emergency was declared. The takeaway is there is some flexibility allowed in this case.

It is important to be clear about how this amendment is implemented – it must be adopted by the municipal sponsor. A fire department that is interested in changing the point system must work with the sponsoring village, town, city or fire district to actually make the change.

Initially, this bill was meant to address the staffing challenge fire departments were facing during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many departments were limiting certain at-risk volunteers from responding to calls. Although this was for the safety of those volunteers, these limitations made it more difficult to earn points under the department responses category. However, this new law is not necessarily tied to the COVID-19 pandemic or any state disaster emergency (although it can be); it is a permanent change to the statute that can be adopted at any time.

We could see this new statute being helpful, or at least provide clarity in the following situations:

  1. Implementation of duty-crews or stand-by crews. Some fire departments have moved to a system where a certain group of volunteers are on-call at the firehouse during a scheduled period of time. Calls during that period could be assigned only to that group and not the entire department. Unless an incident required the entire fire department to be activated, calls handled by the duty-crew would count towards their response percentage, and the other volunteers would not be hurt (from a percentage response standpoint) by being unable to respond to these calls.
  2. For larger departments that have multiple fire companies that are dispatched individually. The actual point system category in the law is titled “participation in department responses”, but then the chart detailing the percentage requirement references “volunteer fire company.” Since “department” and “company” can sometimes be used interchangeably, it isn’t 100% clear if total number of responses should be (or could be) broken out by company or tracked for the entire department. This new legislation would make it clear that a LOSAP sponsor could calculate the minimum percentage of calls a volunteer is required to respond to based on their company’s total number of responses.
  3. For departments that respond to a lot of automatic alarms that don’t require the entire department to be activated. Many departments call these “chief’s investigations” or something similar because they do not activate the entire membership, but rather dispatch a chief to investigate the automatic alarm. If the chief determines that the situation requires the activation of the full department, then that step is taken. Again, we believe that under the old construct of the law an argument could be made to exclude chief’s investigations as a “department response” since the entire department was not activated. However, this new legislation would appear to make it clear that this can be done. (A second discussion about how to award the individuals performing the chief’s investigations with points is a topic for another time, and is also potentially impacted by this new statute.)
  4. For departments that may still have impacted department responses in early 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, or where COVID-19 may end up impacting responses again later in 2021.
  5. For a volunteer who joins or resigns mid-year. Although we aren’t certain this is a positive, it could allow a sponsor to require a volunteer to attend the percentage of the calls only during which he/she was an active member. Under the existing requirement, a volunteer must attend a number of calls that is based on a percentage of the total department calls for the entire year. This is difficult for those who join/resign mid-year or take a leave of absence. That doesn’t appear to be the intention of the statute, but it would seem like a possible interpretation.

PROPOSED OSHA 1910.156 FIRE BRIGADE STANDARD – YOU ARE NOT GOING TO LIKE THIS!!

October 15th, 2021

OSHA has proposed a revision to 1910.156 Fire Brigade Standard Attached) that would have significant impacts on how we do business as NYS Fire Districts. This is not a new initiative (been around since at least 2016) but it recently came off the sidelines and is trucking full speed ahead. We encourage you to read this proposed document and send comments that can be shared with the committee next Tuesday  (10/19/21). They have invited several Fire Officials across the country to take part in 9 hours of hearings next week. Dave Denniston is currently at the NVFC board meeting and they have three representatives here that are preparing the same comments. We need solid data on how this would effect your fire district. Looking for data on additional costs, strain on manpower and other facts that can be presented at the hearings on behalf of NYS Fire Districts. This committee has only 60 days to present the findings and is moving quickly.

Please send Dave Denniston at (ddenniston@afdsny.org) any solid concerns and data that hecan present. Comments like “this is crazy”, “it will never happen”, “it would destroy the fire service” will not hold any water with the committee. NVFC is trying to present that this could have a “significant impact” on smaller rural fire departments. It will obviously have significant impacts on any size department, but our chance to be heard here is under this “Small Entity Organization” The SBA is the group responsible to research and present written findings in less than 60 days now.

 

There may be other opportunities to be heard, you will be kept posted on when and where they may happen. Thanks for the quick turnaround on this.

DRAFT OF THE PROPOSED OSHA FIRE BRIGADE STANDARD

erp-draft-reg

QUICK SYNOPSIS OF WHAT THE STANDARD COVERS

Synopsis of proposed Emergency Resp Std 1910.156

SMALL BUSINESS ADVOCACY REVIEW PANEL – SMALL ENTITY REPRESENTATIVES

ER SER Issues Document – final

 

How to Start a Successful Junior Firefighter Program

August 24th, 2021

Blaize Levitan

One of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done is junior firefighting, both as a participant and later as an advisor. I can’t imagine my youth without the service and experience of junior firefighting, which profoundly affected who I am today.

Every department with the will and resources should start a program. And if you’re ready to do so, but don’t know where to start, you’ve come to the right place.

WHY START A PROGRAM?

Junior firefighting programs allow teens, usually between the ages of 14 and 18, to join their local fire department. When done properly, a junior firefighting program is an incredible opportunity for your community. Here’s why:

  • Teens that participate will have the chance at one of the most unique and rewarding life experiences. They develop leadership skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives, inherit important values of the fire service, build lifelong relationships, explore career opportunities, and have a chance to serve their community.
  • The department will benefit by having a group of young people who are willing to assist with a variety of tasks and responsibilities, access to this great recruitment tool and, as their training progresses, additional on-scene support.
  • The community benefits by having young adults engaged with public safety agencies and exposed to opportunities for social development, as well as benefiting from the community services participants can help sustain.

Watching young people transform into adults by passing on the knowledge and traditions of the fire service is well worth the time. Making a lasting impact on a young adult is a powerful and priceless experience.

ARE YOU READY TO COMMIT?

This is the most important question: Are you and your department ready to commit? To do this right, it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it. It will take countless hours. When working with young people, there can be unique, time-intensive challenges. Keep this in mind as you proceed. That said, this is the fire service and you’re not alone. You will need the support of department leadership and a dedicated team committed to this program.

HOW TO START THE PROGRAM

The most successful way to approach the structure of a junior firefighting program is to essentially treat it as its own fire company, with its own drill times, meetings, events, training schedule and even its own junior leadership. You’ll want to integrate the program into the fire department, but the program requires independence to operate. Let’s review how to make this work.

Establish a team of advisors: First, the program needs adult leadership to serve as “advisors” to the program. This team will establish the structure of the program, training guidelines and schedules, and handle the administrative work. They will also serve as the liaison between the department and the program. A variety of firefighters can be called upon to assist with specific training and events, but you want a dedicated crew to lead the program on a day-to-day basis.

Create program policy or guidelines: The first assignment for the Advisor Team is to establish the governing policy creating the program. To start, rather than address every detail of the program, focus on who and how decisions will be made. Often, volunteer departments will need to consider bylaw amendments.

There are many factors to address in this process:

  • Membership: How will junior firefighters fit into the structure of your department? Volunteer departments often have different classes of membership with certain benefits and requirements. Do you want to establish a junior firefighting class of membership?
  • Application process: What steps do you envision to apply?
  • Program eligibility: Who do you want in your program? There are several factors to consider here:
    • Age: Standard participation range is 14-18; however, some programs allow participants to remain until 21, while others don’t let participants join until 16.
    • Residency: There is value in allowing non-resident participants to join your program, especially if there is no alternative in their community.
    • Participants: The program should be co-ed. Junior firefighting programs can be a great way to reverse the fire service’s abysmal record on gender diversity.
    • Health: Consider requiring a doctor’s note, as many school sport programs do.
    • Academics: Consider collecting high school report cards and requiring academic intervention if participants drop below a certain grade point average. Participation in junior firefighting should help develop young people into healthy and successful young adults, not inhibit academic achievement. Advisors or even fellow program participants can tutor those in need.
    • Criminal history: Do you plan to conduct background checks for program advisors?
  • Advisor onboarding: Will you onboard advisors so they understand appropriate behavior when dealing with minors? Dating or any type of relationship with participants outside of the program must be strictly prohibited.
  • Discipline: Who will be responsible for issuing discipline? This is important to navigate, as there is the Advisor Team as well as Department Leadership.
  • Sign-offs: Who is approving the minor’s participation? Participation by minors requires forms for parent/guardian sign-off, which should also include approvals for photo use on the department website or social media accounts.

Note :It is also important to leave some decisions for the program participants to make.

Start recruiting: Recruitment can be a challenge – but it will get easier with time. Websites and social media are easy ways to advertise and a great place to start.

Engage with the local public school system, which will have multiple options to connect you with interested participants. For example, you may be able to speak at an orientation event for students entering high school or you could include a flyer in the new year materials handed out to students. My former department used to park an apparatus in front of the high school on orientation days, and some of the junior firefighters would wear their gear and discuss the program with interested students.

Further, ensure your presence or inclusion in regular department recruitment operations, such as tables at farmers markets or community and department public events. Eventually, word of mouth will become one of the primary methods of recruitment for your program. Invite those interested to come and watch a drill or two to see what it is all about.

On-board your members: On-boarding is important. If you’re investing time and money into the participants, you want to be sure they clearly understand the commitments. Be upfront about the commitment and expectations. This is not just any club or organization; the members will be representing one of the most respected organizations in their community.

Start by developing a standard agenda or checklist that can be reused, then set up a meeting with the interested participant. By doing this, you can not only explain the program but also learn more about what they hope to achieve. Through this process, you may also learn that they have special skills that can benefit the department, such as social media engagement or website graphic design.

A good friend of mine in a neighboring department was highly adept in video editing as a high school student and made multiple amazing videos for his department while serving as a junior firefighter – and he’s a lieutenant now!

RUNNING THE PROGRAM

The specifics of every department’s program will be just as unique as every fire department in this country. Here are some general aspects to consider:

  • Develop a schedule: When does the organization meet? My suggestion is to pick one night per week, with three drills and one monthly meeting. If this is too frequent, consider every other week.
  • Participant leadership: The organization should have its own leadership structure. This is key for participants to develop leadership skills. They should hold an annual or biannual election to elect officers (e.g., president, vice president(s), treasurer and secretary, at least).
  • Monthly meetings: The club should hold an administrative meeting once per month that follows Robert’s Rules of Order, and requires reports from each officer to the membership, and minutes, too.
  • Program finances: The program should have its own budget, managed by the treasurer, with guidance from an assigned advisor who has actual signing authority. The department will need to make a financial commitment to start the program, and then through fundraising, the program can help sustain itself. Firefighting gear, insurance and similar expenses should be covered by the department. T-shirts, banquets and the like can be funded through a thoughtful budget and then fundraising events.

DRILL TIME

One of the most rewarding aspects of running a junior firefighting program is designing training. Training for junior firefighters should focus on the basics, fully preparing members to excel in Firefighter I training, if they so choose.

Here are some ideas to help get started:

  • Hydrant operations: This is what we trained on more often than any other topic. We set up hydrant relay races and held timed hydrant challenges.
  • Ground ladders: Practice throwing ladders over and over, a key skill that junior firefighters can provide on a fireground. Try this target practice exercise with ground ladders.
  • Equipment location: This is a good one for quizzes and mock responses.
  • Equipment use: Try Jenga or stacking cups with extrication equipment.
  • Radio communications: This is a good drill to engage members.
  • Major fire history: It’s important that new members know fire service history.

Encourage participants to attend and or participate in regular department training, too, especially if they are going to be responding to calls with firefighters. This helps build a positive rapport with firefighters.

Other training events include holding joint drills with other junior firefighting programs in the region. One exciting training event is to have competitions with other junior firefighting programs, relay races or muster challenges. For over a decade, the Connecticut Fire Academy has hosted an annual muster for junior firefighters from across the state. Also, Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts has hosted a historic firefighting muster challenge for junior firefighters, with a bucket brigade and hand-drawn pump.

RESPONDING TO EMERGENCY CALLS

Responding to calls is by far the most exciting aspect of the experience. If properly implemented, it is also a huge benefit to the department. Juniors don’t get complacent in firefighting basics because they are constantly training on them. It’s likely a junior firefighter can dress a hydrant and get water to a scene more efficiently than a 10-year veteran who may have not dressed a hydrant in years.

How junior firefighters respond to calls will depend on the design of your program. Clear standards must be met to allow for response eligibility. Develop a set of competencies that must be attained before response is allowed. Utilizing the concept of Firefighter I and Firefighter II, set different levels for participants to attain.

For example, a Level 1 junior firefighter must prove their competence in a basic set of competencies. Create a checklist that each participant can use to track their progress. Have an advisor sign off, confirming when each skill has been successfully demonstrated. Once the checklist is fully signed off, consider performing a final overall spot test. If they pass and have demonstrated character and discipline in line with expectations, they should be approved to start responding. Send a notice to ensure that they’re introduced to the rest of the department.

Level 2 can include a set of more advanced skills to encourage additional development. This level could come with extra benefits, such as an extended time of response or maybe some tools or a pager. Interested participants should be encouraged to become certified EMTs or emergency medical responders.

It’s important to consider participant ages and local, state and federal work rules. While you may allow participants to join at 14, it may be beneficial, based on labor rules, to wait for the emergency response age to be 16. Most states have guidelines and rules that apply to minors working or volunteering in the fire service.

Further, ensure that junior firefighters understand the confidentiality of what they may be exposed to on scene, as well as protocols regarding cell phone use and social media.

Remember, these are teens responding to potentially serious emergencies. There may not be a need to expose them unnecessarily to disturbing or traumatic situations. For example, there was an emergency in which a routine garage fire turned out to be a suicide, with a deceased individual that had barricaded themselves in the garage and then set fire to it. We didn’t need the junior firefighters on scene for body removal. If they are exposed to trauma, include them in critical incident stress debriefing. It’s best practice to reduce the exposure to trauma for anyone, especially young adults. Instill a positive approach to mental health in junior firefighting programs, and start their fire service career on a strong footing.

BOY SCOUTS EXPLORING

One cannot consider starting a junior firefighting program without discussing Exploring, the national program affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) that seeks to “teach important life and career skills to young people from all backgrounds through immersive career experiences and mentorship.” Exploring is implemented through local BSA councils and an interested organization can form its own post or club. Establishing your program as an Exploring Post is like buying ready-to-assemble furniture. It will provide you with operational guidelines, basic policy and a model structure. Notably, exploring programs provide some basic insurance, training for adult advisors, and background checks.

This all comes with a cost, though. There is a per head fee for both explorers and adults, as well as insurance fees and some minor costs depending on your local BSA chapter. Your program will also be affiliated with the BSA, which comes with its rules and policies, as well as to some extent, its branding. I recommend considering a Post at the start and then rethinking its value as the program stabilizes.

IT’S WORTH IT

There is no single right way to start a junior firefighter program. It’s not easy, but it is worth it. When I contemplate my years as a young adult, I can’t imagine them without the profound impact junior firefighting had on my life, as a participant and advisor. I carry this experience wherever I go. Even in my career outside of the volunteer fire service, I find myself leaning on the leadership skills and values I developed as a junior firefighter. That is surely something worth creating for others.

Model Code of Ethics for Fire Districts

August 19th, 2021

Do you have a completed Code of Ethics on file with your Board?  If you undergo an audit by OSC you will be asked for a copy.  If you haven’t constructed a Code of Ethics here is a template you can use.  Please don’t just fill in the name on the line, read and understand what the Code is saying.

code-ethics-local-governments

What are the Current OSHA/PESH Training Requirement for Firefighters: A Review

August 17th, 2021

Are your firefighters taking their annual OSHA/PESH training, and if not, who do you think is going to answer for the lack of training if something unfortunate happens to one of your members?  You, the Board of Fire Commissioners.

The pertinent OSHA/PESH requirements which require annual refresher training are those designed to maintain proficient firefighter knowledge, skills and abilities in according to 29 CFR (Code of Federal Regulation) 1910.156(c)(2) and increase overall firefighter safety in accordance with other applicable OSHA/PESH standards.

What is PESH?  PESH is the Public Employee Safety and Health division of the NYS Department of Labor.  The Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau (PESH), created in 1980, enforces safety and health standards promulgated under the United States Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) and several state standards.  Public sector employers include:

  • State
  • County
  • Town
  • Village governments
  • Public Authorities
  • School Districts
  • Paid and Volunteer Fire Departments

The Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau responds to:

  • Deaths related to occupational safety and health
  • Accidents that send two or more public employees to the hospital
  • Complaints from public employees or their representatives

The Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau also:

  • Inspects public employer work sites
  • Gives technical assistance during statewide emergencies

The OSHA/PESH required annual training for all fire departments both career and volunteer is conducted so that all members can demonstrate knowledge and proficiency in the topics required.  Those topics include; Hazardous Materials/Emergency Response, Respiratory Protection, Blood Borne Pathogen, Right to Know, Workplace Violence and Fire Extinguishers (if required to use them) which most firefighters are required to do at some point of their career.

In addition to the above required training, OSHA/PESH Standard 29 CFR 1910.156(c)(2) requires that Fire Department Training Programs be designed to address annually the proficiency of each member’s knowledge and abilities as it relates to that member’s expected assignment. Such assignments may include Exterior Firefighter, Interior Firefighter, Apparatus Operator, Fire Officer/Incident Commander and Fire Training Officer. The annual refresher training should be comprised of current content and of sufficient duration so that each member can demonstrate knowledge and abilities in their assigned duties. It is important to maintain documentation of all training conducted to comply with these requirements While no specific time is allotted to the annual training or specific topics, this clarification is not intended to shorten the previously established timeframe, but to provide you with the flexibility to adjust the length of time spent on specific topics that your department feels are more or less necessary.

The OFPC Best Practices for Fire Department Training Programs document outlines subject matter that can be considered for annual refresher training for each member’s expected assignment. Fire Departments must document each member’s annual proficiency training to maintain knowledge, skills and ability proficiencies as related to that member’s expected assignment. This annual refresher requirement does not take into account special operations or activities that would exceed the requirements for this refresher training and should be considered separately based on the needs of the firefighters assigned to those activities.

Suggestions: In addition to subject area topics discussed in a firefighter’s initial training, additional topics for annual refresher training may include those listed below. It is also important to maintain an awareness of current fire service trends and advancements as they relate to your Fire Department and response area.

Some suggested topics may include:

  • Hazard Recognition
  • Fire Station Safety,
  • Response Safety,
  • Fire Scene Safety,
  • Protective Clothing,
  • SCBA Use,
  • Tools and Equipment.

Summary: The overriding consideration when determining the appropriateness of fire service training intended to address annual firefighter refresher training is:

  • Does the training relate to the expected duties and assignments of the firefighter;
  • Does it provide a means to refresh or evaluate competencies the firefighter is expected to perform; and
  • Does the training increase the level of safety for the firefighter.

Volunteer Firefighter Cancer Benefit Program Improvements

August 15th, 2021

It’s a well-known fact that certain types of cancer are a health risk for firefighters. With that diagnosis come major costs. Thanks to the signing of GML-205CC, volunteer firefighters throughout New York State have been entitled to an enhanced cancer disability benefit insurance program provided by their fire district, department or company. It’s why the AFDSNY, FASNY and NYSAFC, have partnered with The Hartford to bring you a way to help protect our 110,000 volunteer firefighters and their families: the New York State Volunteer Firefighter Cancer Benefit program.

At the start of the program the following firefighters were eligible BUT read to the end, now even exterior volunteers can be covered:

  • Served at least 5 years as interior firefighter.
  • Passed a physical exam with no evidence of cancer upon entrance as a volunteer.
  • Pass 5 annual mask fit tests.

What Types of Cancer Are Covered under the Enhanced Plan?

  • Cancers affecting the prostate or breast; lymphatic, hematological, digestive, urinary, neurological or reproductive systems; and melanoma are covered by this policy. As required by New York law, lung cancer, mesothelioma, sarcomas, non-melanoma skin cancers, or certain cancers of the endocrine system are not covered by this policy.

What Types of Cancer Are Covered Under the Premium Plan?

  • All cancers are covered under the Premium Plan, as defined in the policy.

Coverage Amounts for Cancer (Lump-Sum Cancer)

  • $6,250 per diagnosis for less severe forms of cancer as defined in the policy.
  • $25,000 per diagnosis for more severe forms of cancer as defined in the policy.
  • $250 once per lifetime for non-melanoma skin cancer (under the Premium Plan only).

Coverage Amounts for Long-Term Disability

  • $1,500 per month
  • 36-month maximum

Death Benefit

  • $50,000

WHAT’S NEW?

  • For 2022, following discussions with Hartford Insurance, there will be a 15% decrease to the base and enhanced/premium plans.  This rate discount puts us at $132.50 for the base plan and $169 for the enhanced plan.
  • Contract Changes by Hartford Insurance:  The two changes approved by the NYS Department of Financial Services are: #1. allowing the AHJ to use any form of documentation to validate eligibility; and #2 allowing the AHJ to add exterior firefighters with five years of service…period, no other requirements!
  • Fire Districts should budget now to cover this expanded group, you will be receiving information in the near future and insurance agents across the state are being informed of the changes.

Compensation May Increase for Chair’s, Election Inspectors and Fire District Ballot Clerks

August 15th, 2021

On August 2, 2021 Governor Cuomo signed A6296 (Griffin)/ S4064 (Gaughran) into law as Chapter 347 of the Laws of 2021. This amendment of Town Law §175 increases the compensation permitted for fire district election board members. It increases the maximum pay for the chairmen, election inspectors and ballot clerks for fire district elections from $35 for a three-hour election and $50 for a longer election to a sum not to exceed $70 for a three-hour election and $100 for a longer election.  This amendment to Section 175 of Town Law shall take affect upon signing.

  1. The question was asked if this includes the workers who may come into the station to prepare the election rolls or to become familiar with the electronic voting machines and the answer is the law is silent on this matter and those workers could be compensated separately by a resolution of the Board.

Soliciting Competition for Professional Services

August 4th, 2021

Soliciting Competition for Professional Services

Tom Rinaldi, President AFD-CA

This article is being provided as an educational service for the fire districts represented by the Association of Fire Districts of the Capital Area.

Through the first seven months of 2021, the Office of the State Comptroller (OSC) has issued 21 reports on audits they have performed on fire districts. The majority of them address the lack of oversight the board of fire commissioners has over financial activities (and the treasurer). However. two recent reports addressed the procurement of professional services and the perceived lack of competition sought in securing those professional services. The most recent was released in July, 2021. The OSC further addressed professional services procurement for all local governments in a report issued in July 2018. The Office of General Services also maintains a website specifically dedicated to procurement for municipalities. Links to these reports and resources are below.

We believe competition is good for the consumer and/or the taxpayers of a fire district. There are few options, it opens opportunities for vendors to seek their own interest and not that of the consumer. Without competition, there tends to be less innovation, higher prices, and a lack of customer service. On the other hand, competition keeps potential vendors sharp – they tend to pay more attention to the needs of fire districts and create products and services that will meet their needs at reasonable prices.

Generally, a fire district is not statutorily required to seek competition or use a request for proposal (RFP) process when seeking professional services. One exception is when hiring a certified public accountant to audit the fire district’s financial statements. Rather, a fire district is bound by its own adopted procurement policy, which each fire district should have based on their circumstances. The reports released by the State do not state that a fire district requires the use of an RFP process, but they do make it clear that a fire district should go through the process of seeking competition before awarding a professional service contract.

From our viewpoint, the challenge with using an RFP process when soliciting a professional service is that an RFP is generally about meeting a certain specification – can the proposer meet all the stated requirements (specifications) of the request. There is no opportunity for intangibles of value such as experience, diligence or dedication that are difficult to define in an RFP.  There are several inherent problems with using RFPs for professional services:

  1. Most times, the fire district doesn’t actually know what it wants (doesn’t know what it doesn’t know) and so the RFP is incomplete and/or inaccurate and may eliminate qualified vendors for unnecessary reasons.
  2. RFPs usually result in longer detailed contracts and if the fire district is unhappy, it is hard to make changes until the term of the contract expires, which could be as long as 5 years.
  3. Conversely, if the contract awarded through an RFP process is too short or vague, vendors may not bid as the effort isn’t worth it, and may result in unhappy customers as costs increase when customers realize what is really needed, adding more time and cost.
  4. Myriad of other reasons likely stemming from fire districts that are unable to define their specific needs.

When you as an individual make a purchase, you rarely make the purchase purely on specifications. In reality, most people buy a story. A story that typically makes them feel good about their purchase, in addition to the product meeting a certain specification. Apple is great at selling a story in order to get consumers to pay more for a phone that doesn’t offer significantly better benefits than other phones (or, the benefit it does offer are not that valuable to the consumer to justify the additional cost). In professional services, relationship, chemistry, loyalty and overall “fit” are very important in the decision-making process. However, when those factors are prioritized, it could lead to a fire district paying more or perhaps not getting all the services they could receive from a competing vendor. In other words, the story a fire district might tell itself about working with a certain professional (such as how long they’ve been a client or the good things that vendor might do for the fire service) may be preventing that fire district from getting a better experience elsewhere. Soliciting competition at least gives a fire district the opportunity to see if “your guy” is offering the best service at a reasonable (not always best) price.  While OSC may be looking for an RFP, what they are really looking for is the process, are you going through the process of determining if your fire district is getting the most bang for its buck, not because you like the company logo.

As a fire district commissioner, you should be looking closely at each of the vendors and the fees that they charge for the services they provide.  We can also learn from the guidance issued by OSC in their audit reports.  Fire districts should seek out vendors who want to partner with them and not lock in long term obligations so they can drive up billable hours.  Keeping professional services providers hungry and honest will discourage bad behavior.  A fire district should delineate clear expectations in writing, so a determination can be made at the end of each year if all services were provided and if they were performed adequately.

References:

Professional Service Procurement: Considerations for Local Officials

https://www.osc.state.ny.us/files/local-government/publications/pdf/professional-service-procurement.pdf

Local Government Management Guide – Seeking Competition in Procurement

https://www.osc.state.ny.us/files/local-government/publications/pdf/seekingcompetition.pdf

Bidding 101

https://ogs.ny.gov/procurement/bidding-101

Procurement for Municipalities

https://ogs.ny.gov/procurement/procurement-municipalities

Contact the NYS OSC Division of Local Government and School Accountability,

518-408-4934  or  at  localgov@osc.ny.gov

2022 Tax Cap will be Two Percent (2%)

July 17th, 2021

Property tax levy growth will be capped at 2% for 2022 for local governments that operate on a calendar-based fiscal year, State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli announced today. This figure affects tax cap calculations for all counties, towns, and fire districts, as well as 44 cities and 13 villages.

“Allowable tax levy growth will be limited to 2% for a third time in four years for local governments with calendar fiscal years,” DiNapoli said. “As the economy recovers from the pandemic, local governments have seen some revenues rebound and have benefited from one-time federal financial assistance. At the same time, the risk of inflationary cost increases and the need for investments that will stimulate economic growth and fund essential services may lead to challenging budget decisions ahead.”

The tax cap, which first applied to local governments and school districts in 2012, limits annual tax levy increases to the lesser of the rate of inflation or 2% with certain exceptions, including a provision that allows municipalities to override the tax cap.

The 2% cap for the 2022 fiscal year is the third time since 2019 that municipalities with a calendar year fiscal year (Jan. 1 through Dec. 31) had their levy growth capped at that amount. In 2021, the allowable levy growth was 1.56%.

The Growth Factor for fire districts will be 1.0200%%

This is a Must Read Article About Silos – Applies to Fire Companies, Fire Districts and Other Organizations

July 14th, 2021

**Fire Service Organizational Silos: How To Emerge From The Depths And Foster Connection

Kristopher T. Blume

The organizational structure and rigors of the fire service make it susceptible to a critical stumbling block that is common within other industries. That stumbling block is organizational silos, or siloing.

Silos are organizational barriers that foster division, hamper functioning and limit overall ability. Organizational silos can limit creativity and kill organizational and individual morale. As much as siloing is a sign of overall organizational dysfunction, it is also an opportunity for organizational growth and transition.

SPOTTING SILOS

Silos are not always easy to spot; nonetheless, they can be discovered after peeling off the thin veneer of bravado and denial. Identifying the siloed organization is the first step. This requires candid, introspective conversions, and evaluations. An outside audit or assessment can reveal what those too close to the issue cannot see.

Most organizations do not set out to be siloed. And many in the executive ranks may tout the absence of silos in their organization. The truth, however, rests in demonstrable fact, not hot air and hyperbole.

In broad and general terms, siloed organizations are characterized by a lack of communication and cross-collaboration. The silo walls are created with us-vs.-them constructs. Siloed organizations often have teams or entire departments that work in isolation or bubbles, away from the rest of the organization. This narrow focus neglects outside stimulus, tunneling the siloed group into a survival mentality regarding their functional areas. The whole is subjugated by the parts. The insidious effects of silo construction are often not noticed in their incremental parts. Many times, the lack of awareness, energy or desire to remove silos expedites their depth. And once the groundwork of siloed organizations is laid, the rest happens with little effort.

PREDICTING SILOS

Gordon Graham asserts, “If it is predictable, it’s preventable.” Predicting silos means we need to pay attention to early indicators of their presence. Third-person pronouns – they, them, their, the department, etc. – can be isolationist terms. For example, “If only they would pull their weight, we (my team/silo) could get something done around here!” Sound familiar?

Variations of this statement have echoed from the station kitchen tables for as long as the fire service has been around. So, what’s the problem? Many conversions center around the officers at the station driving organizational tempo and culture. Before we dismiss comments like the one above, we need to understand where the silo is built.

When the internal dialogue among fire service membership turns into us vs. them, the inherent challenge of teams comes into focus and, without action, can become a significant problem. This disconnect can lead to tension, loss of productivity and, in the worst case, safety concerns.

Disenfranchised firefighters and officers are another concerning issue that arises in siloed organizations. When individuals are stripped of their formal or informal power and cannot speak up, the foundation is being laid for a significant problem. Employees and managers must feel as if they will be able to work together. When they are pitted against one another or just ignored, it shouldn’t be a surprise to then see an increase in turnover rates and organizational strife.

Another tell-tale sign of a siloed fire service organization is the duplication of tasks. This is the signature signal of miscommunication or the loss of communication. When people cannot decide who receives information or directives, or assign the job to multiple people, mass confusion occurs.

DISASSEMBLING SILOS

Disassembling silos is the key to stopping any further damage and challenges that may already exist within the fire department.

With remote work at an all-time high during the pandemic, more silos emerged and many existing silos deepened. The work disconnect was stronger than ever. To retain formality and a semblance of a schedule, many fire service officers at the administrative level allowed their employees to work on their own time when and where this is appropriate, with regular check-ins with their team throughout the day. Using various forms of communication gave members the chance to select one that works best for their situation and schedule. Some prefer to communicate in writing, while others might choose a video call. This helped promote connections and open lines of communication during a time that could naturally lead to increased siloing.

Another key step is to find ways to create empowered teams. General Stan McChrystal calls them “Teams of Teams.” For smaller fire service organizations, this might not be applicable, but for larger departments, it is essential to create teams. A large department will not have individual meetings and connections but rather team meetings. They have to communicate with one another as they work on projects together, highlighting the importance of staying on task and ensuring that everything is “on time, on target.” Creating chains of communication for these teams to talk with one another and other groups is essential.  Note: This is the decentralization of command. This isn’t the creation of more teams, but rather, empowering them.

No matter how it is done, it is essential to find ways for organizational members to come together in a collaborative environment. To stop the isolation of people within an organization through silos, senior leadership teams must explore and be open to new ways to connect and communicate with our membership. Without this, we will be unable to remain properly connected and informed. Whether through Zoom meetings or virtual chats, it is important for people to talk, share and stay on task – and support one another.

This also applies to finding ways to create organizational learning. In the fire service, we develop training and methods for people to share, learn and improve themselves and their emergency response skills. One of the most generic ways to promote connectedness rather than siloing is to encourage and incentivize the team atmosphere. Many fire service organizations don’t follow this approach, and it is shocking how many departments could be of better service to their communities and personnel if they chose to emphasize teamwork.

The integration of teams within an organization is accessible no matter the size of your department. Encouraging a team atmosphere is as easy as setting goals for the organization and company officers. If people feel they are all working toward something together, they feel more connected and purposeful in their obligations. If firefighters are feeling unsure about where they might be failing, they should feel encouraged and supported in their effort to perform a review at the company level and discover the leaks in their productivity and atmosphere.

STOP SILO RECURRENCE

Now that silos can be identified and dismantled, there are ways to retain the internal peace of the department. One of the best ways to ensure that silos do not return within your organization is through the practice of servant leadership.

Servant leadership is essential because it depends on the purpose of the team. Instead of focusing on the administration and quantitative data as the sole supplier of recognition, servant leadership looks at the people involved and seeks to improve individuals’ skill and make them more integral to the team. Teaching servant leadership is a pivotal way to retain employees and demonstrate the organization’s commitment to its mission, vision and values. With everyone on the same page and focused on the same goals, fire service organizations will find that they have more success than they can imagine in the future.

Preventing siloing is also essential due to the after-effects of the pandemic. Many administrative personnel for municipal fire departments want to remain at home, but fire service organizations need to ensure that people do not stagnate into silos and teams do not begin to fail in their communication abilities.

There are simple ways to improve these issues, including studying the optimal way to work from home. This would help their employees and create more unity with the company’s understanding of their employee experiences. Optimal scheduling and planning can be done by finding the best time and frequency of meetings, establishing freedom of schedule or at least blocks for people to work, and finding ways to incorporate offline updates. With the connectivity of the internet, programs and software are available at all times.

Such work-from-home approaches will differ for every organization, but it will be important that department leadership take the time to study the options to prevent silos. If they do not take the time to explore these issues and find ways to make the work-from-home schedule adequate, individuals will not be connected, might become disenfranchised, and then the siloing begins.

STAY CONNECTED

Siloed organizations can hinder the productivity and cohesiveness of the entire organization. When teams begin to shift focus from their primary purpose, and a battle among teams or managers and employees becomes the norm, collectively, as fire service professionals, we must find ways to stop the siloing.

The long-term losses from siloed organizations include failures on the fireground, frustrations at the individual and company officer level, and often lead to increased employee turnover rates. Working from home will not disappear, and it will likely even become more ingrained in society as an adaptive solution. Pandemic or not, fire service professionals will have to work harder than ever to prove their teams can remain connected and on task. Otherwise, we will continue to struggle with silos as an unwelcomed disruptive force in our departments.

Top Ten Reasons Women are Perfect for the Fire Service

July 5th, 2021
Top Ten Reasons Women are Perfect for the Fire Service

Jill Wiseman

I recently came across an entertaining article about why NOT to become a volunteer firefighter.  When I was reading it, I realized why women are perfect for the fire service, which I would like to share with you:

  1. We don’t need sleep. Especially for those of us who have or have had children, sleep is a luxury we have learned to live without.  From cramps, to pregnancy, screaming babies, and hot flashes, we are doomed to interrupted sleep pretty much our whole lives.  Jumping out of bed in the middle of the night to deal with a crisis comes naturally to us.  It’s what we do.
  2. We want to help. From an early age we have negotiated fights, talked friends through break ups, sat in hospital waiting rooms, comforted those who have lost loved ones, sewn costumes, and occasionally stayed up into the wee hours building a diorama with a teary-eyed middle schooler. Your problems are our problems.  We got your back.
  3. We can handle the sweat. As a woman in midlife, I can say that we are well-prepared to deal with this particular challenge.  It’s my lot in life at this point. Putting on 45 pounds of gear and running around the fire ground isn’t that much different than carting around a set of twins, hauling groceries, or running up and down two flights of stairs delivering laundry to seven kids.  This is not to mention the hours sitting at the high school band fireworks booth in the blazing sun or at a soccer game, those long Saturday runs, hot yoga and sitting in the sauna hoping to drop a few pounds before my 20th high school reunion.  No big deal.
  4. Breaking down doors and using big tools is like free therapy. I have to say that forceable entry is one of my favorite things to do.  Bashing down doors is a great stress reliever for those tense days when I’ve had to let the dog out and in and out and in and out (I have a Husky), picked up yet another wet towel on the floor, and done the dishes left by the sink which is right next to the dishwasher.  Chain saws can be fun too.
  5. We fear nothing. Fires?  We’ve already put out lots of those.  We got this.  In fact, I think we will be joined by most mothers of multiples in saying that, “I’ve got twins. You can’t scare me.”
  6. Lights and Sirens. This is almost as awesome as forceable entry.  There is nothing quite like the rush you get from driving a fire truck, lights and sirens blaring!  Finally, people are getting out of my way.
  7. Volunteering is what we do. From volunteering at food banks, church garage sales, Boy Scouts, bake sales, road clean up, the animal shelter, and building a house with Habitat for Humanity, we’ve got this. We are naturals.
  8. Scene preservation. Want to figure out how this fire started?  We are experts in working around messes made by other people and preserving evidence because believe me, we don’t want to destroy any evidence that someone, like say your 26-year-old-boomerang son who keeps having midnight cooking sessions, has left behind to be able to prove how this all started and who’s Responsible.
  9. Navy blue is actually slimming. Our duty crew shirts, like most departments, are navy blue and are a great cover for the extra 5 pounds that you picked up over the pandemic or over the winter.
  10. Being part of a close-knit group who trusts one another with their lives.

My husband and kids have had their lives in my hands for years and I trust that they are prepared to back me up.  Right? Yeah, sure, dream on!

Being in a group of people who choose to face life altering events every day and help is truly inspiring.  Going that extra mile for each other, getting more training, practicing skills so the muscle memory is there and learning about the science of fire to be able to react as things evolve is proof that we are worthy of the trust we put in each other.

Ladies?  Do you have a fire in you? Its not unlike raising a family.

Legislature Passes LOSAP Bill Modifying How Points Can be Awarded for Department Responses

June 20th, 2021

By Tony Hill

The New York State Legislature passed another bill on June 3, 2021 that would amend Article 11-A of the New York State General Municipal Law, provided the bill is signed into law by Governor Cuomo

This bill is S1210 / A6401 and was first introduced in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. A second bill was also introduced at that time, which allowed LOSAP sponsors to award up to five (5) points per month during the pandemic. Most readers know this second bill became law in 2020.

Bill S1210 / A6401 was also meant to address the staffing challenge fire departments were facing during the pandemic. Many departments were limiting certain at-risk volunteers from responding to calls. Although this was for the safety of those volunteers, these limitations made it more difficult to earn points under the department responses category. As a reminder, the current statute provides that 25 points are earned by a volunteer that attends a minimum number of the fire department’s total calls for the year. For departments that also have a rescue/ambulance unit, an additional 25 points could be earned for attending a minimum percentage of those calls as well. If a volunteer is restricted from attending some calls, it limits the opportunity to respond to the minimum to earn the 25 points. Additionally, the department response category is unique from other categories since it is an all-or-nothing category – either a volunteer responds to the minimum number and earns 25 points or does not and earns 0 points.

What makes this bill different from the one that became law is that it is not specifically tied to the COVID-19 pandemic – it is a permanent change to the statute that gives a LOSAP sponsor another option for how to award points for department responses.

Before we give you the text of the new proposed statute, let’s first review the summary and justification for the bill:

SUMMARY OF PROVISIONS:

Amends General Municipal Law by adding a new subparagraph (q) to address developments in how volunteer fire departments respond to emergencies by allowing programs to calculate percentages based on the total number of calls an individual was dispatched.

JUSTIFICATION:

The length of service award programs (LOSAP) are pension-like programs intended to help recruit, retain, and reward volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers for serving their communities. New York requires volunteers to earn 50 points each year to receive these benefits. One of the ways firefighters can earn points is by responding to emergency calls. However, since COVID, emergency precautions have been adopted to protect vulnerable volunteer firefighters from being exposed to the virus. Specifically, fire departments have had to reduce how many firefighters respond to calls.

This bill recognizes that not every emergency call requires all volunteer firefighters to be dispatched. The current LOSAP point system does not reflect the complexity of emergency response protocols, which only results in more emergency vehicles on our streets and represents a less efficient system. Updating the law from using a percentage of the total number of calls the department was dispatched to in calculating LOSAP points, to the total number of calls an individual was dispatched to will create a more equitable and efficient system.

The Summary and Justification make it fairly clear that the intent is to allow a sponsor to credit the points for department responses on an individual basis, rather than for the entire department’s number of calls. In the view of the legislators that sponsored the bill, this creates “a more equitable and efficient system.”

Since our expertise is not in fire department operations, we won’t discuss how a specific department operates and if an emergency response protocol is efficient or not. We are certain there are many factors to be considered.

This legislation will be helpful for larger departments that have multiple fire companies that are dispatched individually. The actual point system category in the law is titled “participation in department responses”, but then the chart detailing the percentage requirement references “volunteer fire company.” Since department and company can sometimes be used interchangeably, it wasn’t 100% clear if points should (or could) be broken out by company or tracked for the entire department. This new legislation would make it clear that a LOSAP sponsor could calculate the minimum percentage based on each company’s number of responses.

Another scenario where this could be helpful is for departments that respond to a lot of automatic alarms that don’t require the entire department to be activated. Many departments call these “chief’s investigations” or something similar because they do not activate the entire membership, but rather dispatch a chief to investigate the automatic alarm. If the chief determines that the situation requires the activation of the full department, then that step is taken. Even under the current construct of the law, we believe an argument could be made to exclude chief’s investigations as a “department response” since the entire department wasn’t activated. However, this new legislation would appear to make it clear that this can be done. (A second discussion about how to award the individuals performing the chief’s investigations with points is a topic for another time.)

In general, we question whether this new system will actually be more equitable and if it really will create efficiencies in the recordkeeping process.

For a typical department where all active members (regardless of fire company membership) are dispatched for an alarm, the ability to create sub-groups or to assign certain calls to certain volunteers could create inequity and administrative complexities – the opposite of the stated intent of the new law. An obvious example is when chiefs are responsible for responding to all calls, whereas the fire police are only needed for a fraction of the calls. Whatever that fraction is, members of the fire police will be able to earn the same 25 points as the chiefs by responding to fewer calls.

Under the existing point system rules, every active volunteer firefighter of the fire department is expected to respond to the same number of calls in order to earn the same number of points (i.e., 25). The same for the other event-based categories: each firefighter receives the same number of points based on the specific event (points for officers being the one variant). This new statute would allow some firefighters to earn 25 points for responding to fewer calls than others. This seems contrary to the spirit of the rest of the point system.

There would be further complications about how to handle people changing groups mid-year, or even joining or resigning from the fire department mid-year. We can easily see this resulting in an individual-by-individual call requirement to earn the 25 points, as seems to be indicated in the Summary and Justification. This would likely be an administrative challenge for any department – large or small.

If adopted into law, this change to how points are awarded for department responses would be optional. Great care should be taken before implementing it, and the LOSAP sponsor should review it with its legal counsel and LOSAP administrator.

The full text of the new law is below. If you have thoughts or comments, please share for everyone to read!

Section 217 of the general municipal law is amended by adding a new subdivision (q) to read as follows:

(q) The program sponsor may make adjustments to the participation in department responses point system category provided for in paragraph(vi) of subdivision (c) of this section in the event that such program sponsor adopts written emergency response protocols setting different emergency response requirements for the fire department, fire companies, squads and units thereof such that certain participants are not permitted to respond and are restricted from responding to all non-emergency rescue and first aid squad calls and/or all emergency rescue and first aid squad calls. Such restrictions on response may relate to determinations made by the district physician or department’s physician as to the duties that may be assigned to certain personnel. In the event that the program sponsor adopts different response requirements for different groups, participants in those groups shall be required to respond to the minimum number of emergency calls assigned to their group by applying the percentage provided for in paragraph (vi) of subdivision (c) of this section. Notwithstanding the provisions of section two hundred sixteen of this article, a point system amendment to address written emergency response protocols may be adopted by the affirmative vote of at least sixty percent of such governing board, without referendum. Such amendment shall only take effect as of the first day of January next succeeding the completion of the proceedings required for adoption of the amendment and shall only apply prospectively unless the new written emergency response protocol is adopted in order to address a state disaster emergency, as such term is defined in section twenty of the executive law, and applicable to the county or counties in which the fire department operates, in which case such amendment may be applied in the year adopted.