GSFTC Releases Draft of Proposed Rules, Effect on Pension Participation
The Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council released a draft of the proposed changes to the Rules and Regulations governing the training and certification of firefighters and compliance standards for fire departments. The changes were discussed, in brief at the Joint Conference in Savannah. During the discussion, the question was raised as to whether the proposed standards for volunteers would result in volunteers being “kicked out” of the pension fund. While we tried to answer this question with precision, in the ensuing discussion, it became clear the answer was not entirely precise.
But, to be precise, we, the pension fund and staff, will not “kick” anyone out of the fund. Some firefighters may no longer qualify to earn pension creditable service if their department loses its status as a “legally organized fire department.” This may seem like just semantics, but it really relates to where the responsibility lies for earning creditable service. For example, the proposed rules require 6 persons per station, with certain minimum qualifications. A department will have to determine how to comply with that standard or petition now to ease the standard before it is final. A department that does not meet the standard may not qualify as a “legally organized fire department” and thereby its personnel will not qualify to earn pension creditable service.
Individually, to “register” with GSFTC as a Basic or Volunteer Firefighter, one must complete 24 hours of annual training, which includes the 21 Life Safety Skills. Pension qualification for a department requires offering 72 hours of meetings, drills and training annually. Pension creditable service requires some portion of that training and participation in suppression to the level of 50% in the aggregate. That would seem, on the surface, to be compatible. GFSTC proposed, however, additional standards regarding enrollment of volunteers and registration that may have an impact on participation. Volunteer departments must carefully review and weigh these proposed standards as they relate to their own operations and comment back to GFSTC accordingly.
The tension is between the GFSTC and the operating fire departments. The proposed Rules were developed by a committee representing a wide range of interests of the fire service. It remains the responsibility of the fire service, as a whole, to get it right. The interests of the pension fund are served by promoting a well-trained, competent fire service as provided in our enabling statute. We do not, and should not, attempt to advise with respect to proper sizing or equipping of fire departments or training of personnel.
The proposed Rules are posted on the new GFSTC website, http://www.gfstconline.org