Volunteer Fire Departments

AuthorRaymond S. DiRaddo
Chapter 12
Volunteer Fire Departments
New York Fire District Officers’ Guide
§12:10 12-2
In order to make the most of training and modern equipment, the board of fire commissioners should give
careful attention to the personnel requirements of their fire company. To prevent fire , to contain it when it breaks
out, to protect lives and property is the task of the firefighter. Sound training, effective discipline and modern
equipment combine to safeguard the community.
A fire company is only as good as the persons who staff it. Usually the general requirements for membership
in a volunteer company are set forth in the constitution and bylaws of the company, the rules and regulations of
the board of fire commissioners, and the criteria set forth in law. Town Law §176-b.
§12:10.1 RESIDENCE
In order to become a member of a fire company or continue as a member, a person must meet the basic
residence requirements listed below. Town Law §176-b.
(1) The applicant or member must be a resident of the Fire District;
(2) The applicant or member must be a resident of territory outside of the Fire District which is afforded fire
protection by the Fire Department of the district pursuant to a contract for fire protection; or
(3) The applicant or member must be a person who, by reason of his or her residence in the vicinity or his or
her usual occupation, will be available to render service as a volunteer firefighter. Such membership must
be approved by resolution of the board of fire commissioners and will terminate when the member cannot
meet the above requirements. No more than 45% of the members of the Fire Company may by resolution
restrict membership to the residents of the Fire District.
For the purpose of determining whether a person meets the residency requirements, Town Law §176-b, the
term “resident” has been construed by the Attorney General of the State of New York as meaning “domicile.”
Domicile requires an intention to make a residence a permanent and fixed home. A temporary residence for
a temporary purpose, with intent to return to the old home, once that purpose has been completed, leaves the
domicile unchanged. A person may have several residences, but can only have one domicile. The actual place
where a person is residing is not always the domicile. It is necessary that a determination be made based on the
facts of each case.
There are many essentials needed in a modern firefighter. Physical and medical requirements are just the
beginning. The modern fire fighter must have the ability to do the job, ability to understand and absorb the
rigorous training and must be in good physical condition.
The prospective volunteer member should have, at a minimum, a high school education, or possess an
equivalency certificate. The prospective fire fighter should be mentally alert, willing and able to learn, must be in
good health and able to pass a rigid physical examination. Good vision without glasses (at least 20/40 vision) and
freedom from color blindness is a must. Height is generally specified as a minimum, generally starting at 5’7”.
Weight is generally specified in accordance with a standard weight chart in relation to height and age. However,
many companies have found it desirable to place a minimum weight of not less than 145 pounds.
Strength and agility to carry a person, to climb or descend ladders, to walk a ridge pole or cornice with proper
balance should also be requirements. Strength of grip, good hand and eye coordination are also necessities.
Volunteer Fire Departments
12-3 §12:40.1
Most bylaws as well as state laws require that members be citizens. Nearly all have found it advantageous
to require members to have a valid motor vehicle operator’s license. There are other required skills, knowledge,
and abilities generally spelled out in any typical specification for fire fighters.
The necessary fingerprint clearance, credit and character investigation will be detailed under the work of the
membership committee. An arson check is required.
The first step that a prospective member should be required to take is to fill out an application form. This form
should describe his personal statistics such as weight, height, age, physical condition, education, employment
record and any record of law violations or infractions. This becomes part of the record and is used in many of
the further steps of the recruiting process. Once the application has been properly filled out, the prospective
member’s name is forwarded to the membership committee.
Recruitment in Volunteer Fire Companies should not be a haphazard undertaking. Membership in fire
companies should be based upon a genuine interest in the Fire Service and careful attention should be paid to the
applicant’s actual abilities or qualifications.
Membership in a Fire Company is a serious responsibility not only to the community in which a firefighter
serves, but also to the Fire Service as a whole. A man who “fails” as a firefighter not only creates a bad impression
against the Company itself but brings discredit on the Fire Service as a whole.
Every member of a Fire Company should be on the lookout for prospective members who would make good
additions to the Company when vacancies occur. A concerted effort should be made at all times by members to
keep the Company at its full strength.
A prospective member should not be accepted without question just because he has been a member of a
Fire Company in some other locality, because standards do vary from department to department. Any applicant
should be investigated very carefully to determine his performance record in all past associations with the Fire
Service. Unfortunately, having been a member of another Fire Company is no assurance that the applicant is a
well-trained fire fighter.
The Membership Committee is one of the most important committees of a Volunteer department for the
efficient operation of the department depends upon the sound activities of this committee. The bylaws of each
volunteer fire department should completely cover the qualifications of one who is to serve on the Membership
Committee, and the term of office should not relate to the term of the office of the president of the company or
department. The individuals so appointed should be members with experience and with a keen understanding of
the principles and purpose of a volunteer fire department.
The Membership Committee should consist of at least three people (sometimes five is a more desirable
number) to eliminate any possible deadlock in action of the committee.

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