Fire Chief Certification Reminders

A new law that went into effect during 2019 requires the fire chief to annually certify, by March 31, service credit information for each volunteer (and paid on-call) firefighter.

Fire departments are responsible for establishing the minimum service requirements to earn service credit, calculating the service credit for each fire-fighter, and determining whether each firefighter is in good standing.

Administratively, relief association trustees need service credit information when determining eligibility for pension credit. The certification, therefore, must be provided by the fire chief to an officer of the relief association and to the municipal clerk or clerk treasurer of the largest municipality in population served by the associated fire department. The relief association and municipality must keep the certification for the length of time required by each entity’s records retention policy.

The fire chief must also provide to each active firefighter notification of the amount of service credit rendered by the firefighter for the previous calendar year. The service credit notification must be provided to the firefighter 60 days prior to its certification to the relief association and municipality, along with a description of the process and deadlines for the firefighter to challenge the fire chief’s determination.

A copy of the certification is not required to be submitted to the OSA, and there is not a specific form or format that must be used to make the certification. The fire chief has flexibility to create a form that contains a fire-fighter service credit listing that meets the needs of the relief association and complies with this new statutory requirement.

Communities are encouraged to review their local fire department policies to make sure they clearly define minimum standards that firefighters must meet to be eligible for service credit. In addition, the municipal governing board may wish to consider (in consultation with its legal counsel) the value of establishing processes around how disputes over certification amounts will be addressed, whether and what documentation should be kept as to how the service credit amounts were determined, and any other measures that help assure and demonstrate that service credit determinations are being made properly.

Additional information about firefighter service credit determinations is provided in our Statement of Position on this topic.

Published last in the January 2021 Pension Newsletter