Workers’ Compensation for Volunteer Firefighters & Ambulance Workers
There are separate New York State workers’ compensation laws for volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers that recognize the unselfish, unpaid assistance of local residents in community service who are injured in the line of duty. Most of the provisions of these laws are the same as in the NYS Workers’ Compensation Law.
Who is covered by the law? (VFAW)
All New York volunteer firefighters are entitled to benefits under the law if they are active volunteer members of a fire company of a county, city, town, village or fire district and are injured in the line of duty.
Most New York volunteer ambulance workers are entitled to benefits under the law if they are active volunteer members of an ambulance company and are injured in the line of duty. Volunteer ambulance companies which are not under contract with a county, city, town, village or other political subdivision, or that do not wish to become special improvement districts of towns, may provide optional coverage to their workers.
What is “In the Line of Duty” for Firefighters?
Any of the following activities, pursuant to orders/authorization:
- Participation at a fire, alarm of fire, hazardous material incident, or other emergency situation that triggers response by the fire company or its units;
- Travel to, from and during fires or other calls to which the company responds; travel in connection with other authorized activities;
- Some duties in the firehouse, such as construction, repair, maintenance and inspection;
- Inspection of property for fire hazards or other dangerous conditions;
- Fire prevention activities;
- Attendance at fire instructions or fire school; instruction at training;
- Participation in authorized drills, parades, funerals, inspections and/or reviews, tournaments, contests or public exhibitions conducted for firefighters;
- Attendance at a convention or conference as an authorized delegate;
- Work on or testing of fire apparatus/equipment, fire alarm systems and fire cisterns;
- Meetings of the fire company;
- Pumping water or other substances from a basement or building;
- Inspection of fire apparatus prior to delivery;
- Response to a call for general ambulance service by a member of an authorized emergency rescue and first aid squad;
- Participation in a supervised physical fitness class;
- Fundraising activities (non-competitive events).
What is “In the Line of Duty” for Volunteer Ambulance Workers?
- Travel to, working at and travel from an accident, alarm of accident or other duty to which the ambulance company has responded;
- Travel in connection with other authorized activities;
- Personal assistance rendered to another ambulance company;
- Performance of duties at the ambulance facility or elsewhere, directly related to the prevention of accidents or other disasters or the delivery of emergency health care;
- Instruction or being instructed in ambulance duties; attendance at a training school or course of instruction for ambulance workers, or attendance at, or participation in, any noncompetitive training program;
- Attendance at, or participation in, authorized drills, parades, funerals, inspections or reviews;
- Attendance or work at meetings of the ambulance department or ambulance company, or any organized unit thereof, at the ambulance facility or other regular or special headquarters of the department, company or unit;
- Work in connection with the construction, testing, inspection, repair or maintenance of the ambulance facility and the fixtures, furnishings and equipment thereof, and the ambulance vehicles, ambulance apparatus and equipment used by the ambulance department, ambulance company, or other unit;
- Practice for, or participation as a contestant or an official in any competitive tournament, contest or public exhibition conducted for ambulance workers which is intended to promote the efficiency of the ambulance department, ambulance company or any unit;
- Inspection of ambulance vehicles and ambulance apparatus prior to delivery under a contract or purchase or performance of duties in relation to the delivery;
- Attendance at a convention or conference of ambulance workers or ambulance officers as the authorized delegate or representative of the ambulance department, ambulance company or any unit;
- Work in connection with a fundraising activity of the ambulance company, not including competitive events in which volunteer ambulance workers are competitors.
What is NOT “In the Line of Duty” for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers?
- Participation, including practice, in any recreational or social activity, other than noncompetitive fundraising activities;
- Work rendered in the service of a private employer; public corporation or special district;
- Work rendered while on leave of absence or suspended from duty, or work that the volunteer has been ordered not to perform;
- Competitive events in which volunteer members are competitors.
VFAW Workers’ Compensation Benefits
The injured or ill volunteer member who is eligible for compensation will receive necessary medical care directly related to the original injury or illness and the recovery from his/her disability. Medical care for volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers (VFAW) is essentially the same as for employed workers. The cost of necessary medical services is paid by the subdivision or the insurance carrier. These paid costs include:
- A health provider of your choice* who is authorized by the Workers’ Compensation Board
- Surgery, hospital and nursing care
- Medicines, x-rays, tests and eye glasses
- Dentistry and false teeth
- Artificial limbs and other prosthetic devises
- Rehabilitation and therapy
- Travel expenses to and from medical care
If the job-related injury/accident requires medical care, go to the nearest hospital or clinic. But for follow-up care choose your own physician.
At your first visit, ask if the doctor is registered with the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board, and will file a C-4 for you. No workers’ compensation claim can be established without medical documentation on a C-4 form.
No provider of medical care for a workers’ comp case (physician, nurse, dentist, hospital) may ask you to pay the bill. Their bills must be submitted directly to your subdivision’s insurance carrier.
Keep all receipts for out-of-pocket expenses you may incur, such as payment for medicines, etc. You will be reimbursed for these expenses if you can show documentation of the expense.
*Most workers in NYS have the right to choose their own physician for a Workers’ Compensation injury/illness. If you have been told you must see an employer-designated doctor, or go to a particular clinic, you should notify your attorney if you have legal representation.
Benefits are payable when the volunteer company responds as a unit, regardless of whether the injury occurred in the service of the home area or an aided area. Total disability, schedule loss or death benefits are fixed according to the Workers’ Compensation Board statute. In determining weekly benefits for other types of injuries, the loss of earning capacity is based on the ability of the person to perform the work usually and ordinarily performed in his/her regular employment.
Earning capacity is the capability of a volunteer member to perform on a 5-day or 6-day basis the work normally done 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 member is considered to have an earning capacity. The Board determines the reasonable earning capacity, considering the work that he/she could reasonably be expected to obtain and for which he/she would be qualified by age, education, training and experience. Benefits are payable from the first day of disability, with no waiting period.
The maximum weekly benefit, is set by the New York State Legislature. As of July 2008, the maximum rate is $550 per week. Beginning July 1, 2009, the maximum weekly rate will change to $600; on July 1, 2010, the maximum weekly benefit will be calculated based on the average New York State weekly wage.
If a volunteer firefighter or ambulance worker dies from a compensable injury, the surviving spouse and/or minor children, or in the absence of such, other dependents as defined by law, are entitled to continuing weekly cash benefits, depending on the date of death. A minor child is one that is under the age of 18, or under age 25 if enrolled in an accredited educational institution. In no instance may the weekly benefit amount exceed the legal maximum, regardless of the number of dependents. Weekly benefits for surviving spouses who remarry are paid a lump sum benefit of up to $41,600. If there are no minor children, the spouse receives the maximum amount. If there are children who are currently receiving the weekly benefit amount at the time of remarriage, the spouse receives a lump sum award of $22,800.
VFAW Disability Classifications
See general Workers’ Compensation classifications—they are the same.