Bill to Increase Number of Volunteer Firefighters Heads to GovernorTue, 23 Apr 2019 06:03:22 CDT
A bill that would allow retired firefighters to return to service as volunteers without affecting their state pensions passed the state Senate today with a unanimous vote of 42-0.
House Bill 2051, authored by House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher, and Sen. Casey Murdock, R-Felt, now heads to the governor to be signed into law.
"Rural residents are dependent upon volunteer firefighters and fire departments to keep their lives and properties safe," Sanders said. "This law will allow those willing to serve in this capacity to so without damaging their own pension plans or without adding cost to the state."
HB 2051 bill amends language to legislation previously passed by Sanders and signed into law that eliminated the 45-year-old age limit for new firefighters by giving them the ability to join a department without the requirement that they be added to the state's pension plan. The legislation, which took effect in November 2015, has resulted in 300 new volunteer firefighters joining rural fire departments over the past 3 ½ years.
The new legislation will allow retired firefighters to perform as volunteer firefighters for a volunteer department without it affecting their current retirement benefit but also without it counting as an accrued retirement benefit against the state's pension plan.
"State law previously prohibited willing volunteers over the age of 45 from becoming firefighters because the state's pension and retirement plan could not afford them," Sanders said. "Many, however, have been willing to serve without needing the retirement benefit. This amendment will allow trained and seasoned but retired firefighters to participate in protecting the states rural fire districts without affecting funding for other core government services."
Sanders said about 85 percent of the firefighters in Oklahoma are volunteers. Of the state's more than 900 fire departments, about 95 percent are certified with the Rural Fire Defense Program.
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