Emergency Medical Service Employees

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Emergency medical service employees often work in conjunction with law enforcement agencies and/or fire departments.  Under regulations found at 29 C.F.R. § 553.210, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, rescue workers, and ambulance personnel may qualify for the § 7(k) exemption if they meet all of the requirements for an "employee in fire protection activities," which means that the employee: (1) is trained in fire suppression, (2) has the legal authority and responsibility to engage in fire suppression, (3) is employed by a fire department of a municipality, county, fire district, or state, and (4) is engaged in the prevention, control, and extinguishment of fires or response to emergency situations where life, property, or the environment is at risk.

Courts interpreting these requirements appear to focus on whether the employee has the responsibility to engage in fire suppression.  The outcome turns on whether the employee has a real obligation or duty to fight fires.  The court in Cleveland v. City of Los Angeles, 420 F.3d 981 (9th Cir. 2005), cert. denied 126 S. Ct. 1344 (2006), looked at six factors to determine whether dual function paramedics/firefighters had  "some real obligation or duty" to engage in fire suppression.  The Department of Labor also used these factors in making its determination in Wage and Hour Opinion Letter FLSA2006-20, dated June 1, 2006, noting, "If a fire occurs, it must be their job to deal with it."  The six-factor test examines evidence of the following:

  1. the paramedic carries firefighting gear and breathing apparatus,
  2. dispatchers assume that at least one dual function firefighter/paramedic is in each ambulance dispatched to a call,
  3. paramedic ambulances are regularly dispatched to fire scenes and not just when there is a need for advanced life support medical services,
  4. dual function firefighter/paramedics are always expected to wear fire protective gear at a fire suppression scene,
  5. they are expected to provide emergency medical services as their primary responsibility but they also routinely perform fire suppression duties when not needed for medical care, and
  6. they are routinely ordered to perform fire suppression duties.

Based on the evidence presented, the court in Cleveland v. City of Los Angeles found that there was no real duty to perform fire suppression activities.  Applying these factors to different facts and circumstances, the Department of Labor found in its 2006 opinion that the dual-function firefighter/paramedics did have a real obligation to engage in fire suppression.  The Department of Labor also noted that those firefighter/paramedics, as part of their fire suppression duties, regularly attended fire suppression training and presented fire prevention awareness programs.