SCOPE OF DUTY CONCERNING BENEFITS
Tim Bradley, Executive Director
Chief, it is an important task to ensure that all your department benefits are available to your members and that all your departmental job-related functions fall within a Scope of Duty that is established for your members. When determining benefits such as Workers Compensation, Accident and Health, Accidental Death and Dismemberment insurance, and Line of Duty Injury and Death benefits, it is crucial that your fire department members/employees are working or acting within your fire department’s scope of duty.
Working within the departments scope of duty determination is normally an easy conclusion for those providing your benefits, because injuries on the job, while responding to emergencies, working at an emergency scene, participating in department training, and participating in department functions is clearly defined as performing duties for the department. When a member of your department performs a function or duty outside of their affiliated department’s scope of duty your Worker’s Compensation or other insurance benefits may not provide coverage for your member.
For example, members often join associated groups such as a county dive teams, honor guards, forestry strike forces/smoke jumpers, collecting cans for burned children, or specialized regional response teams that carry out functions that we normally consider associated groups. However, these members may not be viewed as clearly representing the affiliated department that provides them with insurance coverage such as Worker’s Compensation. If these organizations, associations, or specialized teams do not provide insurance for their members, then the only coverage they have is their departmental coverage. Therefore, a clear connection between the outside agency or organization and the members affiliated department’s scope of duty is necessary and must be formalized.
Here is a specific example. Tim is a member of your department and joins a county dive team. This is a very commendable endeavor and supports the mission of the fire service. However, there is no clear evidence that Tim has been acknowledged by his Fire Chief as a representative of his department on the dive team, or that the Fire Chief is even aware of his participation. Tim is injured while training with the dive team and files for Workers Compensation with his fire department. When contacted by the insurance company, the Chief is unaware of Tim’s participation on the dive teams and the Workers Compensation claim is denied. Participation in these groups is beneficial and should be encouraged; However, these outside activities must be included within the Scope of Duty for the fire department that is providing coverage.
There is a solution for this potential problem. Explain to your members and employees that if they wish to participate in associated groups of this nature and the group is not part of the members affiliated fire department, that they must first notify their Fire Chief before they join the group. The Fire Chief should then write a letter to the outside group and inform them that their activity or mission is viewed as a necessary function of the members affiliated fire department, and that they are assigning said individual to participate as a representative of the department. This letter should be dated, filed, and available if an incident occurs.
While an official memorandum of understanding (MOU) is preferable between the fire department and the associated group or specialized team, the letter informs the fire department that is providing Workers Compensation and insurance coverage, that they are aware the individual is participating as a member of the fire department, and this is an assigned duty for the member.
When an accident occurs, it is too late to make the connection
between the fire department, the group, and the member.