Paramedics Are Firefighters For Purposes Of Pennsylvania Bargaining Law

Local 22 of the International Association of Fire Fighters is the bargaining representative of all uniformed fire personnel employed by the Philadelphia Fire Department, including firefighters and about 200 paramedics. Both firefighters and paramedics have been included in the Local 22 bargaining unit for over 20 years. However, on March 12, 2009, the City filed a unit clarification petition with Pennsylvania’s Labor Relations Board, seeking to have all paramedics removed from the Local 22 bargaining unit on the basis that they were not firefighters within the meaning of the collective bargaining law.

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court disagreed with the City, and held that paramedics were properly included in the bargaining unit. As the Court saw it, the City’s charter “specifically requires the City to create a Fire Department charged with extinguishing fires, administering and enforcing statutes and regulations regarding fires and explosion hazards, instituting and conducting fire prevention programs, training and supervising fire personnel, and operating a fire alarm system. The Fire Department employs both firefighters and paramedics to work at emergency scenes with the shared goal of saving lives. In order to settle any doubt as to whether paramedics have the authority to fight fires, the City Council recognized such by amending the Fire Code to explicitly authorize the Fire Department to direct Fire Department personnel, including but not limited to firefighters and paramedics, to ‘engage in such actions that are necessary in order to complete the assignment, including but not limited to fire rescue, fire abatement, and emergency medical services.’ Moreover, the Fire Code explicitly states that paramedics have legislative authority to act and actually participate in firefighting operations.”

Having determined that paramedics were authorized to fight fires, the Court turned to the question of whether paramedics actually engage in firefighting. The City contended that paramedics did not actually engage in firefighting because any firefighting they did was “merely incidental to their primary duty of responding to medical emergencies.”

The Court disagreed, holding: “The medical services now provided primarily by paramedics have historically been an integrated service of any fire department. The interrelated duties performed by firefighters and paramedics are equally necessary and appropriate in the firefighting effort; they work together to accomplish the same overall goal of saving lives and property. Surely, the person who monitors the health of the other responders at the scene is just as important to the firefighting effort as the person who runs into a burning building with a hose. It would be patently unfair to say that paramedics do not fight fires when, in fact, they are present at fire scenes; they monitor the health of those persons who are doing physical battle with the fire; and, when needed, they are called upon to do physical battle with the fire themselves. To conclude otherwise ignores the realities of a large, metropolitan fire department in which specialization of activities allows for greater efficiency.”

International Ass’n of Fire Fighters, Local 22, AFL-CIO v. Pennsylvania Labor Relations Bd., 2012 WL 130666 (Pa.Cmwlth. 2012).