Service Award Program

AuthorRaymond S. DiRaddo
Chapter 5B
Service Award Program
New York Fire District Officers’ Guide
§5B:10 5B-2
Article 11-A of the New York State General Municipal Law controls service awards programs. The board
of fire commissioners has the authority to appropriate the money needed annually to fund the service award
programs. The payment required annually to fund service awards is exempt from the spending limit of the
fire district, to the extent that such funding has been authorized in the mandatory referendum establishing the
A village may create a service awards program for the volunteer firefighters of the village fire department
(General Municipal Law §§214 et seq. Opinions of State Comptroller 94-32, 90-57, 2000-18), and a joint fire
district may create a service awards program for the volunteer firefighters of the fire departments servicing the
joint fire district so long as the village and fire district follow the statutory requirements for the creation of the
service awards program. General Municipal Law §§214 et seq. Opinion of State Comptroller 94-32, 90-57,
Since the powers of the board of fire commissioners (Town Law §176) are similarly applicable to the
operation of a joint fire district (Town Law §189-a-(2)(d), Village Law §§22-2212, Opinion of State Comptroller
2000-18), once service awards programs are in place, the political subdivision must fund the program and
administer the program. Town Law Sections 219-a(2)(a) and 219-a(2)(b). This means that a village cannot
transfer its responsibilities in connection with a service award program to an independent fire company (Opinions
of State Comptroller 2000-18, 94-32), nor may a joint fire district assume the responsibilities in connection with
the service award program. Opinion of State Comptroller 2000-18. Therefore, the village lacks the authority to
transfer its administrative responsibilities to the joint fire district.
Only political subdivisions can establish service award programs, and fire districts are political subdivisions.
The service award program does not cover any service benefit program established by the fire company or fire
department. The purpose of the service awards is the retention and recruitment of volunteers for the benefit of
the voters within the fire district.
Because of this public policy, former volunteer members are not allowed to participate in service awards
programs. Opinion of the State Comptroller 94-25. Active life retired members or life retired members are not
eligible to participate in a service award program. Membership is only open to active volunteer firefighters.
Benefits received from the fire district, pursuant to a service award program, shall not be considered in
determining the benefits to be paid under the volunteer firefighters’ benefit law to volunteer firefighters.
Volunteer Fireman’s Benefit Law §22 (2). In fact, if the voters’ district chooses and the voters approve, the benefit
under the service awards program can be used to augment disability and/or death benefits provided for by the
New York State Volunteer Fireman’s Benefits Law.
Receipt of a service award, however, shall not be considered as membership in any pension or retirement
system of the state or any political subdivision. General Municipal Law, Article 11 A. Service awards are
intended to provide benefits to volunteer firefighters of incorporated fire companies or those who are not
otherwise provided benefits by political subdivisions.
Service Award Program
5B-3 §5B:10.5.3
The law governing service awards authorizes political subdivisions, which contract with incorporated
fire companies or departments for fire protection, to provide service award programs for those companies or
departments providing the protection with the political subdivision. General Municipal Law §216-a. If the fire
company or department services two municipalities, each political subdivision must seek the approval of their
voters to establish a service award program (General Municipal Law §216-a(2)) or the political subdivisions may
make an inter-municipal agreement (General Municipal Law §5-G) to jointly sponsor such a program. General
Municipal Law §216-a(3).
Article 11-A of the General Municipal Law sets out a series of definitions that explain the service award
programs. These definitions (General Municipal Law §215) are crucial to the implementation, understanding and
explanation of the service awards programs.
An “active volunteer firefighter” is an active volunteer firefighter, who is actually and faithfully performing
service on behalf of a fire district, fire company or fire department, by protecting life and property from fire or
other emergency, accident or calamity.
An active volunteer firefighter must meet two tests to qualify for service awards:
(1) The volunteer must be subject to call for whatever duties are assigned, and
(2) The volunteer must perform firefighting functions. General Municipal Law §215(11), Opinion of the State
Comptroller 94-33.
A volunteer firefighter who serves as a paid employee of a political subdivision within New York State may
not earn credit under a service award program for responding to fire alarms during regularly assigned work
periods. Regularly assigned work periods are those times an individual ordinarily is scheduled to be at work.
Opinion of the State Comptroller 93-16.
A participant in a service award program convicted of arson in any degree, however, shall not be eligible to
receive benefits of a service award program, and shall forfeit his rights to the service award program. General
Municipal Law §217(c)(iv)(A), 1995.
A service award program that provides a “defined benefit plan” provides to eligible volunteer firefighters
a benefit that is definitely determinable under the program without reference to the amount contributed to the
program on the participant’s behalf. The amount contributed is without reference to any and all income, expenses,
gains, losses or forfeitures of other participants under the program. In a defined benefit plan the amount the
volunteer receives after his years of service is a pre-determined amount. The amount contributed by the district
annually may vary in order to meet the obligation of the pre-determined benefit amount.
A service award program that provides a “defined contribution plan” provides to eligible volunteer firefighters
a benefit as the result of definite and determinable contributions under the program. The amount contributed also
is without reference to any and all income, expenses, gains, losses or forfeitures of other participants under the

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