May 20, 1998
Kendall R. Pirro, Esq.
659 Putnam Road
Schenectady, NY 12306
The staff of the Committee on Open Government is authorized to issue advisory opinions.
The ensuing staff advisory opinion is based solely upon the information presented in your
Dear Mr. Pirro:
I have received your letter of April 28 in which you referred to the opinion of April
22 addressed to you. In brief, it was advised that the records and meetings of volunteer fire
companies are subject, respectively, to the Freedom of Information Law and the Open
You noted that the opinion did not address decisions cited in your letter "which hold,
in effect, that the Open Meetings Law does not encompass bodies which have no authority
to make governmental decisions or exercise the power of the sovereign, etc." You asked
whether it is my view that the principles expressed in the Westchester-Rockland decision are distinguishable from those that you cited involving the Open Meetings Law and whether
volunteer fire companies "exercise the power of the sovereign" and are involved in "the
making of governmental decisions."
In this regard, I did not focus on or address the decisions that you cited, because they
involved ad hoc bodies created to offer advice or recommendations concerning particular
issues, and their existence ended when they completed their tasks. In contrast, the Court of
Appeals in Westchester-Rockland characterized a volunteer fire company as "an organization on which a local government relies for performance of an essential public service." Similarly, in the S.W. Pitts Hose Company decision, the court emphasized that volunteer fire companies provide "an essential public service." Those courts concluded that volunteer fire companies are "agencies" that fall within the scope of the Freedom of Information Law because they are governmental in nature and carry out a governmental function for one or more municipalities.
In short, in my view, volunteer fire companies are in no way analogous to the advisory bodies that were the subjects of the decisions that you cited.
Further, if, as the State's highest court held, a volunteer fire company is an agency
that performs a governmental function, I believe that it may fairly be concluded for purposes
of the Open meetings Law that it conducts public business, performs a governmental function and, therefore, is a public body required to comply with that statute.
I hope that I have been of assistance.
Robert J. Freeman