Volunteer Firefighters’ Benefit Law


What are the benefits under the Volunteer Firefighters’ Benefit Law?
All active volunteer members of a fire company or fire department of a county, city, town, village or fire district are eligible for weekly cash payments, medical, podiatry, chiropractic, rehabilitative and hospital care furnished during periods of disability resulting from injury “in the line of duty” as volunteer firefighters, and in the case of death from such injury, weekly cash payments to surviving statutory dependents.

What is meant by “In the Line of Duty?”
“In the Line of Duty” covers volunteer firefighters in various emergency situations and many activities compensable under the law, when authorized by the proper authority. These include:

  • Participation at a fire, hazardous material incident, alarm of fire or other emergency or situation that triggers response by the fire company or one of its units.
  • Travel to, from and during fires or other calls to which the company responds; travel in connection with activities authorized under the law.
  • Some duties in the firehouse pursuant to orders or authorization.
  • Inspection of property for hazards or other dangerous conditions pursuant to orders or authorization.
  • Attendance at fire instructions or a fire school; instructing at fire training.
  • Participation in authorized drills, parades, funerals, inspections or reviews, tournaments, contests or public exhibitions conducted for firefighters pursuant to orders or authorization.
  • Fund-raising activities (non-competitive events) pursuant to orders or authorization.
  • Attendance at a convention or conference as an authorized fire company delegate.
  • Testing fire apparatus and equipment, fire alarms systems, water supply systems and fire cisterns; construction, repair, maintenance and inspection of the fire house.
  • Fire prevention activities pursuant of orders or authorization.
  • Meetings of the fire company pursuant of orders or authorization.
  • Pumping water of other substance from basement or building pursuant of orders or authorization.
  • Inspecting fire apparatus prior to delivery pursuant of orders or authorization.
  • Response to a call for general ambulance service by a member of an authorized emergency rescue and first aid squad.
  • Participation is a supervised physical fitness class pursuant of orders or authorization.

May a Volunteer Firefighter render emergency service with another fire company or fire department?
Yes. Whenever volunteer firefighters offer their services on a individual basis to another fire company or fire department within New York State, but outside the area regularly served by the fire company of which they are members, and after such services are accepted by the officer in command, the responsibility for benefits resulting form an injury in the line of duty will be that of the fire company or fire department (and its “home” political subdivision) which has accepted such voluntary services.

Are all activities covered under the law?
Yes, except:

  • Fund-raising activity not ordered or authorized by the fire commissioners or practice for or participation in any recreational or social activity. Fund-raising activity shall not include competitive events in which volunteer firefighters are competitors, such as baseball, basketball, football, bowling, tugs of war, water ball fights, donkey baseball, boxing, wrestling, contest between hands or drum corps, or other competitive events in which volunteer firefighters are competitors and which involve physical exertion on the part of the competitors.
  • Work of service not rendered as a volunteer firefighter but rendered as an officer, official or employee of a public corporation or special district thereof.
  • Work or service not rendered as a volunteer firefighter but in the course of employment for a private employer.
  • Work rendered not as a volunteer firefighter but as a civil defense volunteer.
  • Work or service rendered while on leave of absence or while suspended for duty.

Is injury due to carelessness compensable?
Yes. Carelessness alone will not deprive a firefighter of benefits. Willful intent to injure oneself or another will deprive the firefighter of benefits.

Is it necessary to lose time in regular employment in order that a disability be compensable?
No. It is not necessary that a volunteer firefighter lose time in regular employment to receive the weekly cash payments under the law if the disability is one that results (a) in loss of earning capacity or (b) in loss or partial loss of use, of an arm, leg, or eye, or loss of hearing . Also, if medical care is necessary, it will be provided, even though there is no time lost from work.

How is earning capacity defined?
Earning capacity is the capability of a volunteer firefighter to perform the work normally done on a 5- or 6- day basis in regular employment, at the time of injury, or other work that could be considered a reasonable substitute, if there is no employment. Every volunteer firefighter is considered to have an earning capacity. The Workers’ Compensation Board determines the reasonable earning capacity of the volunteer firefighter with due regard to the provisions of the law and the work the firefighter could reasonably be expected to obtain and for which the firefighter is qualified by age, education, training and experience.

How is a claim for benefits presented?
Written notice must be given within 90 days of any injury in the line of duty, or a death as a result of such injury, to the fire commissioners or other appropriate officials of the “home” area. However, the Board may excuse the failure to give written notice on any of the following;

That for some sufficient reason notice could not have been given. That a member of a body in charge of, or any officer of the fire department or fire company had knowledge within the prescribed 90-day period of the injury or death. That a political subdivision, or its insurance carrier, had not been prejudiced by a delay in giving such notice.

  • That the cause of disablement or death was not known to be due to service as a volunteer firefighter in sufficient time to comply with the notice requirement.

If the injury is service-incurred, how much medical care is provided?
Necessary medical care is provided for as long as the injury and process of recovery require, including services of physicians, podiatrists, and surgeons, hospital care, x-rays, laboratory tests, nursing service, prescribed drugs, medical or surgical appliances and the repair or replacement of such when necessary. Advance authorization may be necessary in certain instances.

What are the implications of the “heart bill”?
In a separate chapter of the Laws of 1977, the Legislature passed a new section of the Volunteer Firefighters’ Benefit Law to clarify the law regarding benefits payable when a volunteer firefighter suffers the injury of heart attack in the line of duty. This amendment does not make any malfunctions of the heart or coronary arteries causing disability or death automatically payable.

There is still a legal burden on the volunteer or the family to provide evidence which shows that a malfunction occurred which caused the death and that it resulted from duties as a volunteer.