Volunteer Firefighter Entitled To Workers’ Comp Benefit

George Schuster is a volunteer firefighter for the Village of Lake George, New York Fire Department. Schuster is also self employed in the vehicle repair business. Over the years, he had been retained in his business capacity to perform repair work on the Department’s trucks and apparatus. Schuster and other members of the Department had also conducted routine maintenance activities as part of their duties as volunteer firefighters.

In April 2003, the Fire Chief requested that Schuster switch valves on two fire trucks. Schuster completed the job and noticed that one of the trucks was leaking water. Schuster then went underneath the truck and adjusted the pump packing to prevent further leakage. In so doing, his clothing got caught in the drive shaft of the truck, causing him to suffer injuries.

Schuster filed a workers’ compensation claim seeking coverage for his injuries. When the Department denied the claim, the matter wound up in court. The Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court upheld Schuster’s claim. The Court rejected the Department’s arguments that Schuster was not acting as a volunteer firefighter, but instead was acting as a subcontractor in the context of his outside business.

The Court cited the testimony of the Fire Chief that “sliding under the truck to adjust the pump was a separate activity which, unlike the valve work, was merely considered general maintenance that was done on a volunteer basis and was able to be performed by several of the firefighters, including Schuster. Despite the existence of evidence which might support a contrary conclusion, we affirm the Workers’ Compensation Board’s decision that Schuster was acting in his capacity as a volunteer firefighter at the time of his injury.”

Schuster v. Village of Lake George Fire Department, 823 N.Y.S.2d 619 (A.D. 2006).

This article appears in the January 2007 issue