Volunteer Firefighters Benefits

Introduction to the VFAW Law

The Volunteer Firefighters' and Volunteer Ambulance Workers' Benefits Laws provide cash benefits and/or medical care for volunteer members who are injured or become ill in the line of duty. Recognizing the unselfish service of volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers, laws designed to protect such volunteers who are injured, or who become ill, in the line of duty, were enacted in 1957 and 1989, respectively.

The local political subdivision pays for this insurance, and cannot require the volunteer member to contribute to the cost of coverage. Weekly cash benefits and medical care are paid by the subdivision's insurance carrier, in accordance with the applicable law. The Workers' Compensation Board is a state agency that administers these laws, and if disputes arise, adjudicates them through a quasi-judicial proceeding.

In a volunteer firefighters' or ambulance workers' benefits case, no one party is determined to be at fault. The amount that a claimant receives is not decreased by his/her carelessness, nor increased by the company's fault. A volunteer member loses his/her right to benefits if the injury results solely from his/her intoxication from alcohol or drugs, or from the intent to injure him/herself or someone else.

Who is Covered by the Law?

All New York State 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 State 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 and Is Not "In the Line of Duty"?

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/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; or 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; or 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?"

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; or Competitive events in which volunteer members are competitors, such as baseball, basketball, football, bowling, tugs of war, donkey baseball, donkey basketball, boxing, wrestling, contests between bands or drum corps, or other competitive events in which volunteer members are competitors and which involve physical exertion on the part of the competitors.

How To File A Claim

Obtain form VAW-3 (ambulance workers) or VF-3 (firefighters), Claim for Benefits, from the nearest Board office, the Board web site (Common Forms), or from the fire or ambulance district or company.

Notify one of the following individuals within 90 days of the injury. This may be in the form of a signed copy of a VAW-1 or VF-1:

  • Clerk of the board of supervisors of the county;
  • Town or Village Clerk;
  • Secretary of the fire or ambulance district or company; or
  • Comptroller or Chief Financial Officer of the city.

Mail a completed VAW-3 or VF-3 to the Board District Office nearest you. Claims must be filed within two years of an accident or two years from the date in which a death occurs.

You will be notified by mail if a hearing on your case is necessary.

Cash Benefits

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 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. Necessary medical care is provided without regard to the length of the disability.

  • Schedule of Benefits for Volunteer Firefighters and Ambulance Workers
  • Date of Accident Weekly Maximum
  • Total Disability Weekly Maximum
  • Partial Disability
  • July 1, 1992 and after $400 $400
  • July 1, 1991 - June 30, 1992 $400 $350
  • July 1, 1990 - June 30, 1991 $400 $280

Note: As of January 1, 1999, the maximum benefit for volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers classified as totally and permanently disabled has increased to $400/week regardless of the date that the injury occurred.

In the event of death or disability due to disease or malfunction of the heart or coronary arteries, the claim must be decided within 90 days from the time the claim is received by the Board.

Supplemental Benefits

Supplemental benefits were made available to claimants thought to be most affected by rising costs. The combination of death benefits and supplemental benefits cannot exceed $215/wk. This is the rate that was in effect on January 1, 1979.

Widows or widowers receiving death benefits as a result of the death of their spouses prior to January 1, 1979, are eligible for supplemental benefits by making application to the Board. You may apply for these benefits by requesting and filing an application with the Workers' Compensation Board Finance Office at 20 Park Street, Albany, NY 12207.

Death Benefits

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.

Surviving spouses who have not remarried and have no dependent children are entitled to the following weekly benefits:

Firefighters, for benefits paid after January 1, 2006

  • $130 per week if death occurred prior to Jan. 1, 1978;*
  • $250 per week if death occurred between Jan. 1, 1978 and June 30, 1978;
  • $360 per week if death occurred between July 1, 1978 and Dec. 31, 1978;
  • $477 per week if death occurred on or after Jan. 1, 1979;
  • $665 per week if death occurred on or after July 1, 1985;
  • $887 per week if death occurred on or after July 1, 1992.

* Weekly benefits may be increased to $215 by filing a supplemental benefits form with the Board.

Ambulance Workers, for benefits paid after January 1, 2006

  • $665 per week if death occurred between Jan. 1, 1989 and June 30, 1990;
  • $754 per week if death occurred between July 1, 1990 and June 30, 1991;
  • $776 per week if death occurred between July 1, 1991 and June 30, 1992;
  • $887 per week if death occurred on or after July 1, 1992.

Surviving spouses with dependent children are entitled to smaller weekly cash benefits. Children are also entitled to weekly cash benefits.

Weekly benefits for surviving spouses who remarry after January 1, 2006, and have no dependent children are replaced by the following lump sum benefit:

Firefighters

  • $13,142 if death occurred prior to Jan. 1, 1978;
  • $26,000 if death occurred between Jan. 1, 1978 and June 30, 1978;
  • $37,440 if death occurred between July 1, 1978 and Dec. 31, 1978;
  • $49,568 if death occurred on or after Jan. 1, 1979;
  • $69,164 if death occurred on or after July 1, 1985;
  • $92,219 if death occurred on or after July 1, 1992.

Ambulance Workers

  • $69,164 if death occurred between Jan. 1, 1989 and June 30, 1990;
  • $78,364 if death occurred between July 1, 1990 and June 30, 1991;
  • $80,692 if death occurred between July 1, 1991 and June 30, 1992;
  • $92,219 if death occurred on or after July 1, 1992.

Weekly benefits for surviving spouses who remarry and have dependent children are replaced by smaller lump sum benefits. Children continue to receive weekly benefits.

Funeral expenses are payable in a maximum amount of $6,700, when the death occurs on or after January 1, 2006. If a volunteer firefighter dies from injuries received in the line of duty as the direct result of fire fighting, the $6,700 maximum is not applicable. A lump sum benefit of $56,000 is paid to the surviving spouse, or to the estate if there is no surviving spouse, after January 1, 2006. These are in addition to all other benefits provided.

If a beneficiary claiming death benefits as a dependent or spouse of a volunteer member dies before a determination in his/her favor is made on the claim, all weekly benefits due from the date of death of the volunteer member up to the date of death of the eligible beneficiary will be paid to the executor or administrator of his/her estate.

NYS Department of Taxation and Finance has issued Form IT-245 in order to claim a $200 (or $400) New York State 2007 income tax credit for service with a Volunteer Ambulance Corps or Volunteer Fire Department

Chapter 532 of the Laws of 2007 makes it possible for all active volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers to qualify for the personal income tax credit in calendar year 2007, even if such volunteer also received a real property tax exemption for his or her volunteer service.

In 2006 New York State adopted a law that provides volunteer firefighters and ambulance workers with a $200 personal income tax credit (the credit is $400 for taxpayers who file a joint return and who each qualify for the credit). This tax credit is available to a volunteer that is active and who is not also receiving a real property tax exemption for his or her volunteer service. Because this law was adopted after many volunteers had already applied for their local real property tax exemption, such volunteers would not be eligible for the personal income tax credit for the 2007 income tax year. Chapter 532 corrects this problem.

Click here to view and download Form IT-245 as a PDF.