New Mexico Amends Its Firefighter Bill of Rights

The State of New Mexico has updated its firefighter bill of rights, formally referred to as the Hazardous Duty Officers’ Employer-Employee Relations Act. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the amendments into law last week.

The bill of rights applies to firefighters, EMTs and paramedics employed by the state or political subdivisions of the state who are under investigation for misconduct. Volunteers are excluded from its coverage.

Even prior to these amendments, the New Mexico Hazardous Duty Officers’ Employer-Employee Relations Act was one of (if not the) best firefighter bill of rights laws that has been enacted. Several states with a firefighter bill of rights are stuck with awkward language that is little more than an adaptation of an outdated police officers’ bill of rights. The language creates unnecessary confusion for fire and EMS personnel, but labor and management in those states cannot seem to agree on a solution.

The 2019 New Mexico amendments make a number if improvements, including:

  • Adding a definition of compelled statement;
  • Replacing the term “interrogation” with the more accurate term “investigative interview”;
  • Limiting the ability of ranking officers to conduct investigative interviews unless ordered by the firefighter/EMT/Medic’s “department director or the department director’s designee”;
  • Adding a requirement that at the beginning of the investigative interview the firefighter/EMT/Medic (referred to as the “officer”) be advised of all of their legal rights;
  • Requiring court approval before an officer’s compelled statement can be released by the employing department.

Here is a copy of the amendments:

Congratulations to all who worked on these amendments on both sides. They are neither pro-employee nor pro-management. They are pro-fire service in that they help make clear the process to be followed when a fire department is conducting a disciplinary investigation.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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