FREEDOM OF INFORMATION COMMISSION

OF THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT

 

In the Matter of a Complaint by Final Decision

 

Christopher D. Anderson,

 

Complainant,

 

against Docket #FIC 88-489

 

Town of Wethersfield, Wethersfield Fire Department, and Wethersfield Fire Department Company No. 1,

 

Respondents September 27, 1989

 

The above-captioned matter was heard as a contested case on January 27, 1988, at which time the complainant and the respondents appeared, stipulated to certain facts and presented testimony, exhibits and argument on the complaint.

 

After consideration of the entire record, the following facts are found and conclusions of law are reached:

 

1. The respondent town is a public agency within the meaning of 1-18a(a), G.S.

 

2. By letter dated December 19, 1988, and filed with the Commission on December 21, 1988, the complainant appealed to the Commission, alleging he was denied access to the December 5, 1988, meeting of the respondent company no. 1.

 

3. The respondent fire department and the respondent company no. 1 claim they are not public agencies and not subject to the open meetings provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

4. As to whether the respondent fire department and the respondent company no. 1 were created by government, it is found that:

 

a. Before 1803, Wethersfield residents relied on "chimney watchers" for fire protection.

 

b. The respondent company no. 1 was chartered by the state on May 5, 1803, and comprised the respondent fire department in its entirety for more than 100 years. The whereabouts of the original charter is unknown.

 

c. In the 1920's Wethersfield's fire company no. 2 originated and in 1957, company no. 3.

 

Docket #FIC 88-489 Page Two

 

d. Each of these three fire companies has always been staffed and managed by volunteers. In each period of its history, the respondent fire department has consisted primarily of the volunteer companies in existence at that time.

 

5. While the Commission acknowledges the difficulty of providing evidence on the origins of an organization that is 186 years old, it is concluded that the respondent fire department and the respondent company no. 1 failed to prove that they were privately created.

 

6. As to whether the respondent fire department and the respondent company no. 1 are funded by government, the following facts are found:

 

a. The respondent town provides the respondent fire department with its three fire stations, including that which houses the respondent company no. 1, rent free.

 

b. The respondent town also provides the respondent fire department with the money for fire-fighting equipment and clothing, which the department's administrative staff then allocates to the volunteer companies, including the respondent company no. 1. When the town buys equipment directly, it sends it to the department's administrators for allocation to the companies.

 

c. The fire houses and equipment remain the property of the respondent town at all times and are purchased with money generated by taxing town residents. The volunteer companies, including the respondent company no. 1, do not purchase any of their own equipement.

 

d. The respondent company no. 1 annually submits its budget to the respondent fire department's chief, who in turn submits the budget for the entire department to the respondent town's manager.

 

e. The town manager and his staff authorize all the respondent fire department's purchases and the town finance officer signs all checks for these purchases.

 

f. The town fire marshall is a paid town employee.

 

g. The town manager, who serves as the director of safety for the department of safety's fire division, is a paid town employee.

 

Docket #88-489 Page Three

 

h. The respondent fire department's chief has a town car available for his use at all times.

 

i. All other firefighters in the respondent fire department and the respondent company no. 1 are volunteers not compensated for their firefighting services.

 

j. In exchange for the volunteers maintaining the fire station buildings, however, the respondent town does provide the volunteer companies, including the respondent company no. 1, with some money for social events.

 

7. It is concluded, therefore, that both the respondent fire department and the respondent company no. 1 are funded entirely by government.

 

8. As to whether the respondent fire department and the respondent company no. 1 are regulated by government, the following facts are found:

 

a. By town charter, the respondent town's department of safety has a fire division that relies on the fire protection services provided by the volunteer companies, including the respondent company no. 1.

 

b. All officers and firefighters of the respondent fire department and the respondent company no. 1 are members of the fire division of the town's department of safety. It is their duty to know and follow the rules of the town's fire division.

 

c. The respondent town's charter establishes the office and duties of the respondent fire department's chief. It makes his duties subject to change by town ordinance or by order of the director of safety, who is the town manager.

 

d. The respondent town's charter requires the respondent fire department's chief to direct the volunteer companies, including the respondent company no. 1, at fires.

 

e. The town charter also requires the respondent fire department's chief to conduct training for the volunteer firefighters, in cooperation with the volunteer companies' officers, including those of the respondent company no. 1.

 

f. The respondent fire department's chief is appointed by the respondent town's manager and must submit monthly reports to the town manager.

 

Docket #FIC 88-489 Page Four

 

g. The respondent fire department's assistant chief and deputy chief are also appointed by the town manager.

 

h. Staff officers who assist the respondent fire department's chief are also appointed by the town manager. The chief must make requests to fill a staff vacancy or create a new position to the town manager and must follow the respondent town's personnel rules when making appointments or promotions.

 

i. The rules of the respondent town's department of safety, fire division, detail the powers and duties of all the respondent fire department's officers.

 

j. The respondent fire department's by-laws are approved by the town manager. These by-laws supercede any conflicting provisions in the respondent company no. 1's bylaws.

 

k. The office of the respondent fire department's chief is located in the respondent company no. 1's station house.

 

l. The records of policies and procedures of the respondent fire department are maintained in the assistant chief's office, located in company no. 2's station house.

 

m. The records of fires are maintained in the fire marshall's office, located in the town hall.

 

n. One objective of the respondent company no. 1 is to operate in concert with other fire service organizations the respondent town authorizes.

 

o. All applicants for membership in the respondent company no. 1 must reside in the town of Wethersfield.

 

p. Every resident applying to be a member of the respondent company no. 1 must first obtain the approval of the respondent town's director of safety (town manager) and the respondent fire department's chief.

 

q. The respondent company no. 1 informs the respondent fire department's chief when an applicant has served the required probationary term, and the chief then authorizes a change in that person's status.

 

r. The respondent town's director of safety (town manager) sets the maximum number of members allowed in the respondent company no. 1. The company must seek the

 

Docket #FIC 88-489 Page Five

 

approval of the respondent fire department's chief to increase its membership beyond thirty people or to create additional officer positions.

 

s. A volunteer firefighter wishing to transfer into the respondent company no. 1 must complete a form provided by either the respondent company no. 1 or the respondent fire department.

 

t. The respondent company no. 1 allows a transfering firefighter with probationary status and proper licensing to drive fire trucks if both the respondent company no. 1's captain and the respondent fire department's engineer approves.

 

u. The respondent town requires each volunteer company, including the respondent company no. 1, to hold at least one administrative and training drill a month, and notify in writing the respondent fire department's deputy chief of the attendance at each drill.

 

v. The operating rules of the respondent town's department of safety, fire division, further detail the requirements for the volunteers, including those of the respondent company no. 1, for training, responding to alarms, fighting fires, attire, disciplinary actions, penalties, etc.

 

w. The operating rules of the respondent town's department of safety, fire division, also detail the powers and duties of the volunteer companies' officers, including those of the respondent company no. 1.

 

9. Thus it is concluded that the respondent company no. 1 is heavily regulated by the respondent fire department, and that both are heavily regulated by the respondent town. In addition, the work of all three respondents is intertwined to a significant extent.

 

10. The Commission takes administrative notice of 7-301, 7-308, 7-313c, 7-314a and 7-314a(d), G.S., which regulate further the relationship between municipalities and volunteer fire companies.

 

11. It is concluded that both the respondent fire department and the respondent company no. 1 are heavily regulated by and intertwined with government.

 

12. It is found that both the respondent fire department and the respondent company no. 1 perform firefighting and fire protection services.

 

Docket #FIC 88-489 Page Six

 

13. It is concluded, therefore, that both the respondent fire department and the respondent company no. 1 perform a governmental function.

 

14. It is further concluded that both the respondent fire department and the respondent company no. 1 are public agencies for Freedom of Information Act purposes.

 

15. It is also concluded, however, that the respondent company no. 1's purely social activities are not governmental functions and under 1-18a(b), G.S., are not subject to Freedom of Information Act requirements.

 

16. The respondents claim that the respondent company no. 1's meeting was an operational meeting and, under 7-314, G.S., not subject to the open meeting requirements of the Freedom of Information Act.

 

17. It is found that the following activities, other than purely social ones, regularly take place at the respondent copmany no. 1's meetings:

 

a. The volunteer's captain informs them of new policies and procedures formulated by the staff of the respondent fire department.

 

b. The volunteer officers and firefighters discuss firefighting techniques.

 

c. The volunteers vote on the probationary status of members, a matter over which they do not have final decisional authority.

 

d. The volunteers elect their officers and swear them into office.

 

18. It is found that the activities described in paragraphs 17a, b and c, above, are operational within the meaning of 7-314, G.S.

 

19. It is concluded, therefore, that the portion of the respondent company no. 1's meeting at which those activities took place are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act's open meeting requirements.

 

20. It is found that the activity described in paragraph 17d, above, the election of the officials who are responsible for running the company, is not operational within the meaning of 7-314, G.S.

 

Docket #FIC 88-489 Page Seven

 

21. It is concluded, therefore, that the portion of the respondent company no. 1's meeting at which the election of officers took place is subject to the Freedom of Information Act's open meeting requirements.

 

22. It is further found that the volunteer company no. 1 elects associate members to what is essentially an honorary position for those who are no longer active firefighters.

 

23. It is found that the volunteer company allows associate members to attend social gatherings, parades, and those meetings at which the company elects officers.

 

24. It is concluded, therefore, that the respondent volunteer company no. 1 has waived any claim to the confidentiality of its meetings at which officers are elected.

 

25. It is found that the complainant was denied access to the respondent company no. 1's meeting of December 5, 1988.

 

26. It is found that election of officers did take place at that meeting.

 

27. It is concluded that the respondent company no. 1 violated 1-21(a), G.S., by denying the complainant access to the December 5, 1988 meeting.

 

The following order by the Commission is recommended on the basis of the record concerning the above-captioned complaint:

 

1. The respondent company no. 1 henceforth shall act in strict compliance with the open meeting requirements of 1-21(a), G.S.

 

2. The Commission reminds the respondents that Commission staff attorneys can provide answers to telephoned questions and educational workshops on Freedom of Information Act requirements free of charge.

 

Docket #FIC 88-489 Page Eight

 

PURSUANT TO 4-180(c) C.G.S. THE FOLLOWING ARE THE NAMES OF EACH PARTY AND THE MOST RECENT MAILING ADDRESS, PROVIDED TO THE F.O.I.C., OF THE PARTIES OR THEIR AUTHORIZED REPRESENTATIVE.

 

THE PARTIES TO THIS CONTESTED CASE ARE:

CHRISTOPHER D. ANDERSON, 15 Lindbergh Drive, Wethersfield, CT 06109

 

TOWN OF WETHERSFIELD, WETHERSFIELD FIRE DEPARTMENT AND WETHERSFIELD FIRE DEPARTMENT COMPANY NO. 1, c/o Brian Thomas

Burns, Esquire, Sabatini and Budney, One Market Square, Newington, CT 06111

 

Approved by order of the Freedom of Information Commission at its regular meeting of September 27, 1989.

 

 

Tina C. Frappier

Acting Clerk of the Commission