OKLAHOMA CITY – Almost 300 new volunteer firefighters have joined rural fire departments three 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 three years since the law took effect, 270 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, 866, or 95 percent, are certified with the Rural Fire Defense Program.
“Our rural fire departments depend on volunteers to keep our citizens and our property safe,” said Sanders, R-Kingfisher and House Majority Leader. “State law, however, 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 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 worked with Griffin and 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.
“I’m thankful we were able to find a solution to grow our volunteer firefighter base,” Sanders said.
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.