Part-Time Firefighters Allowed to Organize in Pennsylvania

A hearing examiner for the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board has concluded that part-time firefighters for the Borough of Emmaus are not volunteers and eligible to organize.

The ruling by Hearing Examiner John Pozniak allows full and part-time firefighters up to an including the deputy chief to vote in an election to decide whether they want to organize.

The case began last October on the petition of the Pennsylvania Professional Fire Fighters Association. The Borough challenged the petition on two grounds. First the Borough claimed the part-time firefighters are volunteers and not eligible to organize. Second the Borough claimed the fire fighters are employees of the fire department (at one time a separate legal entity) not the Borough. Pozniak easily disposed of both arguments. As for the first one:

  • “there is little doubt that the petitioned-for fire fighters are employees… and not volunteers”
  • “Indeed, the fire fighters work for the Borough and they provide their services in return for financial compensation in the form of hourly wages.”
  • “the fire fighters certainly do not give their services without any express or implied promise of remuneration, which would classify them as volunteers”
  • “the Borough does not even contend that the hourly wages are intended as some sort of reimbursement for expenses”

As for the argument that the fire fighters serve the fire department not the Borough, Pozniak concluded:

  • “The Borough Manager has the power to discipline anyone in the Fire Department for violating policies issued by the Borough”
  • “the final say on discipline rests with the Borough”
  • “the borough issues monthly checks directly to the fire fighters, based on their hourly rates”
  • “The borough deducts taxes… and the fire fighters receive a W-2 from the Borough”
  • “a fire fighter wishing to work for the Fire Department must fill out an application, which is ultimately reviewed by the Chief and then must be approved by the Borough”

Here is a copy of the ruling: Emmaus Borough PF-R-13-100-E

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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