BY REBECCA ISENHART
NISKAYUNA — The Niskayuna No. 2 Fire District on Troy-Schenectady Road has revised its methodology for rewarding volunteer firefighters after an audit by the Office of the State Comptroller found its practices failed to align with New York State General Municipal Law.
The fire district, like many across the state, uses a program called a LOSAP, or Length of Service Award Program, to honor volunteers for their service to the department.
“It’s a program to encourage volunteerism in fire departments and rescue squads also,” said Gary Male, board chairman for Fire District 2. “It can end up amounting to a sum of money if someone stays in the department for a number of years. It’s invested prudently.”
In New York state, LOSAP programs operate on a complex point system, where limits are set by the state’s General Municipal Law. For example, training courses are worth a maximum of 25 points for more than 100 hours of study. Volunteers can earn one point for teaching a fire prevention class, up to a maximum of four. Responding to a minimum number of EMS calls is worth 25.
“Every call we go on, we have a sheet which we tabulate what members go on the call. So they get points for the call,” Male said. “Every drill that we have for the participation is noted and kept track of and that’s true of monthly meetings also. And people go to state training programs to learn how to be a firefighter or an EMT, and the member gets points for that. So those points are tabulated throughout the year.”
There are many ways to earn the points, but all volunteers who accrue at least 50 of them receive credit for one year of service with the fire district. This, in turn, entitles them to a defined contribution to their LOSAP accounts: That is, every volunteer’s account earns the same amount. In Niskayuna, that amount currently hovers around $700.
The accounts become accessible after retirement or, in some cases, in the event of injury or disability.
In 2014 at Niskayuna Fire District 2, there were 48 active volunteers, and about $23,100 went into LOSAP accounts for the district. The audit found that in 2014, a handful of volunteers were awarded LOSAP points incorrectly; some too high, others too low. The problem arose because some achievements were being awarded with an incorrect number of points.
“I think that carried over from years ago. We’d never realized,” Male said. “So when they pointed it out, we corrected it.”
In 2014, two volunteers should’ve fallen just short of earning credit for the year’s LOSAP, but got it anyway. Male said those two volunteers would keep their contributions.
“We’re going to move forward,” he said.
Other aspects of the audit, which looked at the fire district’s operations as a whole, found the establishment in good working order.
“We had frankly thought it would be more extensive and they might give us some kudos for running pretty well,” Male said. “We thought they could’ve given a shout-out and said we did pretty well, but they don’t do that. That’s not what they’re in business for.”