It's election season, time to break out the bylaws!
In the volunteer, or combination, fire company setting, election season is both a time of anxiety and excitement. Every firefighter who has been involved in these elections can almost certainly recall past elections that will forever be ingrained in his or her memory (for better or worse). For the seasoned firefighter, EMS provider or administrator the election process is often very mechanical - the rules known by heart. For those newer personnel, this is a time to learn the process which governs how fire company leaders are selected.
The process is likely defined by your bylaws. The bylaws may require an election to be done by the general membership, by the board of directors, have committees involved, or many other combinations. An organization has broad leeway to enact its own bylaws but in areas where bylaws are silent, the organization will be bound by state law.
For example, Pennsylvania's nonprofit law says that the number of board members is (a) the number defined in a the bylaws; if there is no number defined, (b) the number defined in the articles of incorporation; if the number is not defined there, (c) then there will be three board members. The three board members are a "default rule." In other words, where the organization has not provided for its own rules, the state's law will "fill-in." Another interesting default rule is that a board member is permitted to participate remotely in meetings (telephone or other "electronic technology") and this participation is treated the same as being physically present so long as all members can hear each other. This is only if your bylaws do not contradict this.
There is much debate as to the "best" way to chose positions such as Fire Chief or President. This sparks debate on items like qualifications for positions and who should be a voting member for particular positions. The key is to consider all of these things and define the process to avoid the "default."
What often occurs during election season is a realization that the election portion of the bylaws (and maybe other sections as well) should be re-visited and possibly amended. Bylaws, like your SOGs or policies, should not be set in stone but should be reviewed regularly and updated in order to permit your organization to function in the modern times. A solid set of bylaws complies with any applicable laws and is tailored to your company's structure, mission and operation. What works for one company, may not work for its neighbor. While many rely on "firehouse lawyers," the update of your bylaws should certainly include consultation with your actual legal counsel.