Rural fire departments have more than 140 additional firefighters one year after legislation became law that eliminated the age limit for new volunteers.
House Bill 2005, authored by Rep. Mike Sanders, took effect Nov. 1, 2015. The law eliminated the 45-year-old age limit for new firefighters by giving them the option of joining the system without the requirement that they be added to the state’s pension plan.
“This is amazing progress,” said Rep. Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “We not only recognized a state problem, but we came up with a common-sense solution that benefits rural communities by saving lives and property.”
Sanders said he first became interested in drafting the legislation because research showed a nationwide and statewide decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters. Prior state law, however, barred willing volunteers over the age of 45 from becoming firefighters because the state’s pension and retirement plan could not afford them.
Sanders said he asked constituents above the age of 45 if they would be interested in volunteering and about whether or not they needed a pension. Most said they already had pensions but would be more than willing to serve. Sanders also worked with former Council of Firefighter Training (COFT) Executive Director the late Jon Hansen and with other volunteers from across the state in drafting the bill.
In addition to saving lives and property, Sanders said the law will also help lower insurance rates.
“My intent was to expand the volunteer firefighter base to reverse the current trend of declining volunteers,” Sanders said. “One year later, I’m happy to report that we’ve done that, and we will only see more new firefighters in the future as a result of this law.”
The legislation was approved unanimously in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and approved by a vote of 32-13 in the Oklahoma Senate before being signed into law by Gov. Mary Fallin in April, 2015.