Bill for volunteer firefighters win approval in the State House and heads to the Senate

The Oklahoma Senate takes up a bill to allow paid firefighters after retirement to return to service as volunteers without effect on their state pensions.

House Bill 2051 received unanimous approval this week in the House where the vote was 97-0.

“Our rural fire departments depend on volunteers to keep our citizens and their properties safe,” said House Majority Leader Mike Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “This law will help those who are ready and willing to serve do so without damage to their pensions or added 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 simply could not afford them,” Sanders said. “Many, however, said they would be 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.