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Official Opinion 2012-4

Official Opinion 2012-4

June 14, 2012
To: 

Executive Director
Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council

Re: 

Inmate firefighters should be considered volunteer firefighters as defined in O.C.G.A. § 25-4-3(9) (Supp. 2011) and not a separate category. The Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council has the authority to set minimum requirements for volunteer firefighters, the category to which inmates belong, serving as firefighters on fire departments as defined in O.C.G.A. § 25-3-21(2)(B) and to establish and modify by rule and regulation minimum requirements for such fire departments generally, regardless of whether they are staffed solely or partially with inmate firefighters.

You have requested my opinion on the authority of the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council (hereinafter "the Council") to address minimum requirements for inmates functioning as firefighters and the Council’s authority to establish minimum requirements for fire departments operating in this state staffed solely or partially with inmate firefighters. Specifically, you have asked (1) whether the Council has the authority to set minimum requirements for inmates serving as firefighters on fire departments as defined in O.C.G.A. § 25-3-21(2)(B), (2) whether the Council has the authority to establish and modify by rule and regulation minimum requirements for such fire departments that are staffed solely or partially with inmate firefighters, and (3) whether inmate firefighters should be considered volunteer firefighters or a separate category.

Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 25-4-7(4) (Supp. 2011), the Council is vested with the power to "establish uniform minimum standards for the employment and training of full-time, part-time, or volunteer firefighters, airport firefighters, fire and life safety educators, fire inspectors, and fire investigators, including qualifications, certifications, recertifications, decertifications, and probations for certified individuals and suspensions for noncertified individuals, and requirements, which are consistent with this chapter . . . ." I understand that in various locations in the state inmates are trained and serve as firefighters along with paid and volunteer firefighters.

Inmate firefighters are not specifically defined in the statute, and they do not meet the definition of full-time or part-time firefighters since they are not employed for compensation. O.C.G.A. § 25-4-2 (Supp. 2011) defines full-time as "employed for compensation on a basis of at least 40 hours per week by any municipal, county, state, or private incorporated fire department" and part-time as "employed for compensation on less than a full-time basis by any municipal, county, state, or private incorporated fire department." Id. at subsections (7) and (8). "Volunteer" is defined as "not employed for compensation by but appointed and regularly enrolled to serve as a firefighter for any municipal, county, state, or private incorporated fire department." O.C.G.A. § 25-4-2(9) (Supp. 2011). Since inmate firefighters are not employed for compensation but are appointed and regularly enrolled to serve as firefighters for municipal, county, state, or private incorporated fire departments, they meet the definition of volunteer firefighter and, consequently, they should be considered volunteer firefighters so long as they have the requisite duty and training requirements listed in O.C.G.A. § 25-4-2(6) (Supp. 2011). Since inmates meeting the duty and training requirements are volunteer firefighters, the Council is exercising its authority to set minimum standards for them when it establishes minimum standards for volunteer firefighters generally. Nothing in the Code authorizes the Council to establish a separate set of minimum standards for inmate firefighters apart from those standards that apply to any volunteer firefighter.

O.C.G.A. § 25-3-21 defines fire department as "any department, agency, organization, or company operating in this state with the intent and purpose of carrying out the duties, functions, powers, and responsibilities normally associated with a fire department. These duties, functions, powers, and responsibilities include but are not limited to the protection of life and property against fire, explosions, or other hazards." Minimum standards of fire departments are set forth in O.C.G.A. § 25-3-23 (Supp. 2011), and the Council’s authority to regulate is set forth in O.C.G.A. § 25-3-22:

In order for a fire department to be legally organized to operate in the State of Georgia, the chief administrative officer of the fire department shall notify the executive director that the organization meets the minimum requirements specified in Code Section 25-3-23 and the rules and regulations of the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council to function as a fire department. If the council is satisfied that the fire department meets the minimum requirements contained in Code Section 25-3-23 and the rules and regulations of the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council, he or she shall recommend to the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council that a certificate of compliance be issued by the council to the fire department. If the council issues such certificate of compliance, the fire department shall be authorized to exercise the general and emergency powers set forth in Code Sections 25-3-1 and 25-3-2.

O.C.G.A. § 25-3-22. Thus, in order for a fire department to legally operate in Georgia, the department must meet minimum standards set forth in O.C.G.A. § 25-3-23 (Supp. 2011) and rules and regulations established by the Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council. The Code, however, does not provide for establishing a separate set of minimum standards applicable to a fire department staffed solely or partially with inmate firefighters.

Therefore, it is my official opinion that inmate firefighters should be considered volunteer firefighters as defined in O.C.G.A. § 25-4-3(9) (Supp. 2011)and not a separate category. The Georgia Firefighter Standards and Training Council has the authority to set minimum requirements for volunteer firefighters, the category to which inmates belong, serving as firefighters on fire departments as defined in O.C.G.A. § 25-3-21(2)(B) and to establish and modify by rule and regulation minimum requirements for such fire departments generally, regardless of whether they are staffed solely or partially with inmate firefighters. 

Prepared by: 

Angelique B. McClendon

Assistant Attorney General