State law changed to boost recruitment of volunteer firefighters

OKLAHOMA CITY – Volunteer fire departments around the state can recruit new volunteer firefighters over the age of 45, due to a new law that took effect Nov. 1.

House Bill 2005, by state Rep. Mike Sanders, eliminates an age limit that was put in place to address a pension dilemma. 

In order for the pension system to work, new enrollees must be under a certain age.

 His legislation gives potential volunteers the option to join without a pension if they are above that age.

“Basically, the law was keeping people from serving just because the state didn’t want to pay a pension for someone starting their firefighting career at 45; it just didn’t work,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “But there were men and women who would like to serve, even if it had to be without a pension. So, this law just opens that door to them. The men and women I talked to said that they already had pensions, that they were looking to serve and didn’t need to be part of the pension system.”

State Sen. AJ Griffin, who carried the bill in the Senate, said rural communities rely on volunteer firefighters.

“Our rural communities in particular rely on the service of volunteer firefighters. Not only do these courageous men and women save lives and property from fires, they are also first-responders in a host of other emergency situations, including tornadoes, flooding, and ice storms,” said Griffin, R-Guthrie. “Removing this unnecessary restriction will enable more Oklahomans to serve their friends and neighbors in communities throughout our state.”

Sanders said he hopes the new law will help address a nationwide and statewide decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters. Nearly 90 percent of the fire service in Oklahoma is all volunteer.

“This is one more tool in the toolbox to help our volunteer fire departments,” Sanders said. “I am grateful for the support of the governor and my legislative colleagues.”