Fairfax, VA – Since some IAFC members are involved in a potentially divisive issue concerning the International Association of Fire Fighters’ (IAFF’s) position on whether or not IAFF member fire fighters and paramedics can volunteer for other fire departments, it has become necessary for the International Association of Fire Chiefs to express our position on this issue.
The IAFF is currently engaged in serious internal discussions and trial boards concerning its members’ participation as volunteers in fire departments that have IAFF locals. The IAFF’s governing documents prohibit its members from serving as volunteer firefighters and paramedics for other fire departments. Membership provisions have been legally challenged and have been upheld through the courts.
While the IAFF is responding to what is happening in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, the issues that have generated the current IAFF actions exist in many other areas within the United States and Canada. We expect that IAFF locals may act to enforce the IAFF constitutional membership requirements and require IAFF members who choose to serve as volunteer firefighters in fire departments with another IAFF local to relinquish their membership in the IAFF.
This issue involves two basic questions: the right for someone to volunteer his or her personal time and expertise as they desire, and the ability of an organization (such as the IAFF or the IAFC) to make its own rules for membership.
The IAFC fully supports the rights and freedoms of Americans and Canadians to choose to serve their community and their nation as they see fit. Much of our two nations’ histories have been forged by citizens exercising these rights, and many of our community institutions, such as the volunteer fire departments that protect many of our communities, are based on these traditions and principles.
The IAFC supports the rights of Americans and Canadians to choose an occupation. When the exercise of these rights involves choosing the fire service, we support the rights of each individual to choose to serve in any capacity, whether in a paid, paid-on-call or volunteer position.
However, we also believe that organizations (including trade organizations and unions) have the right to adopt constitutions and by-laws and set rules and qualifications for membership. Many volunteer fire departments have been strong vocal advocates for non-interference with their individual ability to set their own requirements for membership.
Provided that membership requirements are consistent with U.S. and Canadian laws and are neither illegal nor discriminatory, each organization, association or volunteer fire department must have the right to set its own membership requirements and obligations. An individual’s civil rights should not be infringed upon and should not be arbitrarily restricted for a voluntary contribution to the safety and welfare of their own communities.
And, while the IAFC disagrees with this particular IAFF membership rule, we must respect and defend each organization’s ability to independently set its own rules and requirements through its own democratic governing process. We encourage the IAFF to internally engage in discussions to address this issue and work to find a solution that is acceptable to both the IAFF and the volunteer fire service.
Let us all be mindful of the fact that the fire service is evolving as we speak. The requirements and demands of the fire service have been altered in response to new and terrible threats to our communities, our nation and our world. We should expect that we will be asked to do even more in the future, and possibly to do it differently, than we have ever been asked to before.
To this end, it is essential that we maintain working relationships with both individuals and organizations that work to protect our communities, even though we may have differences of opinion and approach at times.
It is our hope that the fire service will focus on positive methods to achieve our collective mission of providing for the safety and security of our communities and maintain that as our first priority.