NVFC: Recent NJ Two-Hatter Situation Not an Isolated Incident

In March, an article published on www.mycentraljersey.com and reprinted in the National Volunteer Fire Council’s (NVFC) E-update reported the story of Michael Schaffer, a career firefighter who resigned from the Cherry Hill Firefighters Local 2663 under pressure from his union because he serves as a volunteer firefighter in Berlin Township, where he lives, during off-duty hours. The International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) prohibits its members from volunteering as emergency responders in jurisdictions where an IAFF local is present and/or looking to expand into.

According to the article, “Rather than risk expulsion by his ‘brothers’ for doing something that he loves and that runs in the family, Schaffer resigned [in February] from his union…” The article also indicates that the union plans to bring up other members on charges in the future.

Career firefighters who volunteer during off-duty hours (commonly known as “two-hatters”) are hardly unique. A Department of Homeland Security survey of close to 17,000 fire departments (slightly more than half of the nation’s fire departments) that applied to the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program in FY 2006 identified more than 27,000 career firefighters who serve as volunteers during off-duty hours. Two-hatters were identified in every state in the union, plus Puerto Rico, except for Hawaii and the District of Columbia.

Schaffer’s ordeal is only one instance of two-hatters being pressured to quit volunteering or leave the union. In 2006, Vincent Pereira, a career firefighter with the Port Reading Fire District No. 2 and a volunteer firefighter in the Colonia Volunteer Fire Company, was expelled from the Woodbridge Fire Fighters Association, Local 290, for his volunteer activities. Pereira, who like Schaffer lives and works in New Jersey, quit volunteering when he joined Local 290, only to re-join after discovering that a number of fellow union members were volunteering during off-duty hours, despite the IAFF’s prohibition.

Unlike Schaffer, Pereira did not resign from the union and was eventually brought up on formal charges and subjected to a Trial Board hearing on January 5, 2006. Pereira provided the NVFC with a transcript from the hearing, which has been posted on the NVFC’s Volunteer Advocacy Committee web site at www.nvfc.org/volunteeradvocacy. Pereira was ultimately expelled from membership in the Local and the IAFF.

Pereira and Schaffer both stood up to IAFF pressure, eventually choosing to continue serving their communities as volunteer firefighters rather than maintaining their union membership. Many two-hatters simply take the path of least resistance and drop out of the volunteer fire service rather than take on their union and face the accompanying personal and professional fallout in the workplace.

In April 2009, at the NVFC’s annual spring meeting, the Board of Directors voted to adopt a Statement on the Right to Volunteer, which advocates, among other things, “…the rights of volunteer, career, or paid-on-call firefighters to serve multiple organizations or communities.” The Board also directed the NVFC Volunteer Advocacy Committee to establish an awareness campaign to inform the public about the two-hatter issue.

If you are a two-hatter and are under pressure from your union to give up serving your community as a volunteer emergency responder, please visit the NVFC Volunteer Advocacy Committee’s web site at www.nvfc.org/volunteeradvocacy. The page includes a form you can submit to alert the Volunteer Advocacy Committee to your situation.

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