Several Proposals Currently Being Considered By The Tennessee Senate Aim To Provide Some Needed Benefits To Volunteer Firefighters In The State.
Photo Credit: Hilary Clark / Pixabay
Published March 24, 2021
The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
Most of the firefighters in Tennessee are volunteer status. Statistics reported to the State Fire Marshal’s Office indicate that there were 22,065 active firefighters in Tennessee in 2020. Of those firefighters, 7,847 (35.6%) are career employees, while 14,218 (64%) are volunteers.
Senate Bill 655 was unanimously passed and is ready for transfer to the House. This bill would provide incentives for volunteer firefighter recruitment by creating a retirement system called a Length of Service Award Program (LOSAP). The bill gives the State Treasurer the authority to work with local governments and their volunteer fire departments to implement a LOSAP plan for volunteer firefighters, emergency medical personnel, and ambulance service providers.
An LOSAP can be a defined contribution plan, which functions similarly to a 401(k), or it can be a defined benefit plan, which works more like a pension. Contributions from local government or nonprofit organizations that make use of the volunteer services fund the program.
Individuals must be true volunteers who do not receive any pay for their services. Volunteers may receive reimbursement for reasonable expenses.
The bill’s sponsor, Senator Janice Bowling of Tullahoma, believes this legislation will help enhance recruitment efforts.
“Our volunteer fire departments are on the front lines of keeping our families safe, especially in Tennessee’s rural communities, “said Bowling. “We need to do everything we can to aid their efforts and ensure that the next generation of volunteer firefighters are in place. Our volunteer firemen have to recruit individuals to take their place as they age and complete their service. This program will hopefully provide an incentive that will help them in their recruitment efforts.”
The House version of this bill, sponsored by Representative Ron Gant of Rossville, has been recommended for passing by several subcommittees and has been assigned to a Finance, Ways, and Means Subcommittee.
Another bill that seeks to provide assistance to volunteer firefighters is Senate Bill 778. If passed, the bill would give an annual payment of $600 to firefighters who have completed at least 30 hours of training. The anticipated cost of this program is included in Governor Bill Lee’s budget proposal for 2021-2022.
Currently, volunteer firefighters must cover the cost of all training and equipment themselves. One of the bill’s co-sponsors, Senator Jack Johnson of Franklin, acknowledged the importance of helping to provide units these items.
“In many parts of our state, volunteer firefighters are the only means of providing emergency fire and medical services. Keeping them running with up-to-date training and equipment is vital to the safety of our communities,” said Leader Johnson.
The bill was passed on the first and second consideration and has been passed on to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. The House version of the bill, House Bill 772, has been recommended for passing with amendments and referred to the Local Government Committee.
Also included in Governor Lee’s proposed budget is $1 million to provide grants that could be used by local volunteer fire departments to purchase firefighting equipment and training. The Volunteer Firefighter Equipment and Training Grant Program amounts are doubled in the newly proposed budget. If approved, those funds will allow great service to communities and reduce fire fatalities.