Florida Amends Firefighters’ Bill of Rights

The Florida legislature has amended the Firefighters’ Bill of Rights to clarify several provisions that for years have created confusion for firefighters, unions, fire department investigators, and fire chiefs. The amended law goes into effect Friday, July 1, 2022.

The Florida Firefighters’ Bill of Rights consists five sections of Florida Statutes, §§ 112.80 – 112.84. Only two of the five sections were amended, § 112.81 entitled Definitions, and § 112.82 entitled Rights of Firefighters.

Among the problem areas under the old Bill of Rights, was confusion over the definitions of informal and formal investigations, as well as whether the protections intended in the act were applicable during most investigations. The definition problem with informal investigations pertained to whether activities such as “after action reports”/”incident critiques” were informal investigations. Under the amended law, they are specifically excluded from the definition of informal investigation.

The biggest concern under the old Bill of Rights pertained to the definition of formal investigation, and its impact on protections under the act. This is the old definition of formal investigation:

“Formal investigation” means the process of investigation ordered by supervisory personnel, after the supervisory personnel have previously determined that the firefighter shall be reprimanded, suspended, or removed, during which the questioning of a firefighter is conducted for the purpose of gathering evidence of misconduct.

Under this definition, it appears that a formal investigation begins AFTER a firefighter has been found guilty. That would appear to be rather pointless, but it is hard to read the law differently. This interpretation is even more problematic than might it might initially appear, because the definition of interrogation states that it applies only during “formal investigations,” and the protections of the law under § 112.82 are triggered by an interrogation during a formal investigation. As a result, it was unclear if any of the protections afforded by the bill of rights applied until after a firefighter had already been found guilty.

The new law addresses this problem quite clearly. Here is the new definition of formal investigation:

“Formal investigation” means the process of investigation ordered by supervisory or management personnel, to determine if the firefighter should be disciplined, reprimanded, suspended, or removed, during which the questioning of a firefighter is conducted for the purpose of gathering evidence of misconduct.

Congratulations to all those having a part in getting this important piece of legislation corrected. Now let’s talk about getting California’s Firefighters’ Procedural Bill of Rights fixed!!!!

Here is a copy of Florida’s amended Bill of Rights:

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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