OKLAHOMA CITY – Almost 200 new volunteer firefighters have joined rural fire departments two years after successful legislation eliminated the age limit for new volunteers.
House Bill 2005, authored by Rep. Mike Sanders and Sen. AJ Griffin, took effect Nov. 1, 2015. The law 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.
In the two years since the law took effect, 183 new volunteers have been added to fire service roles. Sanders said about 85 percent of the firefighters in Oklahoma are volunteers. Of the state’s 915 fire departments, 855, 93 percent, are certified with the Rural Fire Defense Program.
“With so many of our state’s fire departments dependent on volunteers, it became incredibly important to find a way to increase the number of volunteers eligible to serve,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher. “Public safety has always been my number one priority as a lawmaker. I’m pleased to see that two years after drafting this measure, our rural fire departments are seeing such growth.”
Sanders said he decided to draft the legislation after being shown research that depicted a nationwide and statewide decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters, and realizing one of the hindrances was state law. Prior state law 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 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 rural fire coordinators from across the state in drafting the bill.
In addition to saving lives and property, Sanders said the law also can help lower insurance rates.
The legislation was approved unanimously in the Oklahoma House of Representatives and approved by the Oklahoma Senate before being signed by the governor in April, 2015.