December 26, 2006
RULES FOR CADET/JUNIOR VOLUNTEER FIREFIGHTER PROGRAMS
By: John Moran, Principal Analyst
You asked for a description of how Connecticut's child labor laws affect cadet and junior volunteer firefighter programs and how other states handle this.
Cadet and junior firefighter programs allow minors (youth ages 14 to 18) to learn about volunteer firefighting; train with experienced firefighters; and in some places, assist at fire scenes. Child labor laws that prohibit minors from engaging in hazardous work and limit work hours apply to these programs. Even though the junior firefighters are volunteers, they, like adult volunteers, are considered employees of the volunteer fire department (VFD) for purposes of liability and workers' compensation.
At issue is striking a balance between protecting children from potentially dangerous situations and encouraging efforts to educate and recruit young people into firefighting. Recently, the state Department of Labor (DOL) issued a letter establishing guidelines for permitted junior firefighter activities at various ages. Since Connecticut law does not specifically address these programs, DOL used existing labor law and DOL regulations to develop guidelines for junior firefighters. For example, the guidelines allow minors age 15 or older to respond to emergencies on fire department vehicles after receiving proper training.
We compared Connecticut's policy with those of two neighboring states, Massachusetts and New York, and two states, Pennsylvania and Virginia, where VFDs serve a large percentage of the state. All of these states were either somewhat or much more restrictive than Connecticut in permitting cadet firefighters to be involved in various firefighter activities.
Table 1 shows at what age two potentially hazardous activities are allowed in the five states we reviewed.
Table 1: Age Junior Firefighters Allowed to Perform Certain Activities
Minors allowed to respond on fire vehicle
Minors allowed to enter structure at fire scene declared safe by the incident commander
At least 16, but exact age determined locally
Not uniform across the state**
Not uniform across the state**
*With proper training
**Decided at the local level
Child Labor Law
State and federal law determine where and when children can work. Minors are generally prohibited from doing hazardous work unless state law explicitly permits it.
Connecticut law prohibits those under age 18 from working in any occupations the departments of Health or Labor deem hazardous. For example, a person must be age 18 to operate an electric meat cutter in a supermarket. But state law creates exceptions for those age 16 and older (1) enrolled in a bona fide apprentice program or in any Department of Education and DOL approved work-study program or (2) who have graduated from high school.
State law also prohibits anyone under age 18 from being employed in a manufacturing, mechanical, or mercantile establishment between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. But they may work until 11 p.m. in such
establishments, or until midnight in a supermarket, if the following day is not a regular school day. The law permits exceptions for minors who are high school graduates and for national emergencies.
DOL Guidance for Cadet/Junior Firefighter Programs
DOL initially issued a guidance letter for cadet/junior firefighters in 2004. This year representatives of the Commission on Fire Prevention and Control, the Connecticut Fire Chiefs Association, and DOL met to further develop the guidelines. On October 25, DOL Commissioner Patricia H. Mayfield issued a new guidance letter that includes the following.
All cadets under 18 are prohibited from:
1. driving any fire department vehicle in an emergency;
2. performing interior fire suppression in structures or vehicles or in wildland fires, except grass fires;
3. entering a confined space as defined in federal regulations;
4. responding to hazardous material fires, spills, or other events that may expose a minor to hazardous material exceeding a threshold set in federal regulations (allows for small motor vehicle fuel leaks);
5. performing firefighting “overhaul” duties (i.e., checking to see that an under control fire has not spread, which may include ripping open walls or similar activities);
6. operating a personal vehicle with blue emergency lights;
7. performing ice rescue activities;
8. any activity that involves the risk of falling six or more feet; and
9. activities including using a self-contained breathing device or cutting torches, filling air bottles, operating aerial ladders, and any duty involving hose lines with a diameter greater than 2.5 inches (except five- to six-inch drafting suction lines).
Cadets 16 and 17 years old are permitted, between 6 a.m. and 12 midnight, to do the following:
1. take part in supervised training;
2. respond to emergencies on fire department vehicles, after proper training;
3. fight grass fires, after proper training;
4. perform search-and-rescue operations, not including structural fires;
5. enter a fire structure after the fire is out and the incident commander has declared the structure safe;
6. perform traffic control duties after proper training;
7. drive emergency vehicles under 10,000 pounds in nonemergency mode, after proper training;
8. pick up hoses and clean up fire scenes after the incident commander has declared the area safe;
9. use pneumatic- or power-driven saws, shears, Jaws-of-Life type devices, and other power tools only during training;
10. operate certain pumps at fire scenes; and
11. handle charged hose lines up to 1 ¾ inch in diameter.
Cadets 14 and 15 years old are permitted to volunteer only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. and may only do the following:
1. observe exterior firefighting activities, while under supervision;
2. clean up at a fire scene, only outside the structure and only after the incident commander declares the scene safe;
3. after proper training and turning age 15, ride on fire department vehicles responding to emergencies;
4. receive training and instruction that does not involve fire, smoke (except theatrical or latex smoke), toxic or noxious gas, or hazardous materials;
5. respond to incidents no later than 7 p.m. and remain on-scene no later than 10 p.m.;
6. attend meetings that end no later than 10 p.m.; and
7. wear protective equipment that readily identifies them as “minor firefighters.”
The work group that drafted the guidelines issued a joint statement that reads, in part:
It is the intent of these [fire cadet] programs to provide a safe, yet meaningful experience for the youth of our communities. These programs are to be viewed as an instructional and educational activity. Cadet programs are not intended to replace fire personnel, but rather to expose our youth to the occupation of firefighting. These guidelines are to be considered maximum parameters for operation. Fire departments are free to restrict the participation of cadets within these guidelines. Safety of the cadets is the highest priority at all times.
Of the four other states we reviewed, all were either somewhat or much more restrictive than Connecticut in permitting cadet firefighters' involvement in various firefighter activities. For example (in addition to what is shown in Table 1), none of the other states allow 14- and 15-year-olds to respond to incidents or perform clean-up duties outside a structure that the incident commander has declared the scene safe.
Massachusetts permits minors to volunteer with a VFD, but it does not allow them to be involved in actual fire fighting activities. They are permitted to attend meetings and do limited training. “We've taken the position that whatever is applicable in private industry for minors and hazardous work is also applicable for volunteer departments,” said Cecile Byrne, a supervising inspector of fair labor practices at the Massachusetts Attorney General's Office.
State law specifically prohibits 14- and 15-year-olds from riding a motor vehicle as part of work, which bans minors that age from responding on a fire vehicle. Byrne said her state interprets federal law to prohibit 16- and 17-year-olds from riding on a vehicles responding to an emergency call.
New York law does not recognize junior volunteers as members of a local VFD. A minor can (1) be part of Boy Scouts of America firefighter explorer program, which is not part of a VFD and therefore does not permit explorers to participate in any firefighting activities at a fire scene, or (2) at age 16 (or older depending on the local law) become a member of a VFD. An official at the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control indicated that state law recognizing the explorer program prohibits fire explorers from participating in any firefighting emergency or other hazardous activities.
On the other hand, town law establishes the level of firefighting activities permitted for those at least 16-years old.
The official, Thomas Wutz, said town ordinances vary as to what they allow. Some, for example, allow those age 16 to ride on a fire truck responding to a fire, others do not. He said a 16-year-old who joins a VFD under a town ordinance is covered by the state law that gives workers compensation coverage to all volunteer firefighters. The workers' compensation law makes no distinction between minor volunteers and those over 18.
Pennsylvania child labor regulations spell out what is permitted for minors volunteering with a VFD.
Minors who are age 17 must complete the equivalent of basic firefighting training in order to engage in general firefighting activities and they must be under the direct supervision of the fire chief or a trained experienced officer over 21. Even under such conditions, these minors are prohibited from:
1. entering a burning building;
2. operating an aerial ladder or platform, hydraulic jack, or high pressure hose;
3. climbing ladders;
4. using insulated wire cutters, life nets or acetylene cutting units, rubber electrical gloves, or insulated wire gloves; and
5. driving a fire department vehicle.
At a fire scene, 16-year-olds are permitted only to (1) provide first aid and (2) perform clean-up duties outside the structure after the officer in charge declares the fire under control.
Minors age 14 and 15 are forbidden from (1) riding on an official vehicle to a fire scene and (2) participating in any fire fighting activities. Junior firefighters at this age are limited to training and cleaning and storing equipment.
Like New York, in Virginia a town must enact a junior firefighters program ordinance in order to have a program. Certain decisions are left up to the town, but the state establishes minimum standards. State standards require that minors age 16 and 17 must complete the Virginia Firefighter Level One training course, administered by the state Department of Fire Programs, before they are permitted to do any firefighting activities at a fire scene.
With the Level One training many towns permit 16- and 17-year-olds to respond to emergencies (including riding on an emergency vehicle to the scene) and participate in support functions at the emergency, including clean-up duty. They are prohibited from entering a burning building unless it is a non-combustible training building and they have the Level One training, which consists of 100 hours of training.
State law bans 14- and 15-year-olds from taking part in any activities at a fire scene, but it does permit them (with a local enabling ordinance) to take part in classroom training and support activities at a training site.