PulsePoint CPR Notification System and the FLSA

Today’s FLSA Question

I am a fire chief. My EMS chief wants us to consider a CPR notification system known as PulsePoint. It notifies trained citizens (and off-duty firefighters) when there is a CPR incident nearby so that immediate aid can be rendered. It’s a wonderful system, and as this video shows, one of the best uses for it could involve off-duty personnel.

As I said, this system is a lifesaver.

My question is: Do I have to pay my firefighters for time spent responding to PulsePoint notifications when off duty? I don’t think it will cost us much money and I don’t think it will happen that frequently. We just want to do what is right under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).

Excellent question. Most likely time spent by off-duty firefighters responding to PulsePoint notifications is compensable under the FLSA. However, there could be instances when some fire department employees could respond to PulsePoint notifications without being compensated. If you’re asking yourself “What is the difference?” this should help explain.

Generally, the FLSA contains strict restrictions on employees volunteering services for their employers. The concern is that employees could be exploited if allowed to “volunteer” for their respective employers. For example, employees could spend eight hours a day working in the store selling goods and another two hours at the end of the day as a “volunteer” restocking shelves and cleaning isles.

But, as is often the case with the FLSA, there are special rules for public agency employees, including many firefighters. In 1985 Congress carved out an exception that allows certain public agency employees an opportunity to “volunteer” for their public agency employers. The rule allows a public agency employee such as a firefighter to volunteer for his or her employer, provided that the work being performed (as a volunteer) is not “the same type of services which the individual is employed to perform for such public agency.” See 29 USC §203 (e)(4).

For example, a firefighter cannot volunteer as a firefighter or emergency responder for his or her employer. However, he or she could volunteer as a baseball or football coach. Conversely, a fire department mechanic or secretary could volunteer as a firefighter, but could not volunteer repairing fire apparatus or processing payroll. Unfortunately, there is no exception for well-meaning off-duty firefighters helping the community in life-or-death situations.

There are also workers’ compensation and general liability concerns for any off-duty personnel who may respond to PulsePoint notifications. Your department should craft policies and procedures that address these concerns before you consider participating in the PulsePoint notification system.

This is one of many topics discussed at all our upcoming Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for Fire Departments seminars. Please consider joining us.

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