Legislation has been introduced that aims to provide volunteer firefighters in Mississippi with annual payments as an incentive to serve communities across the state.
If passed, the Mississippi Length of Service Award Program (HB 521) would allow volunteers to receive up to $500 each year if a minimum number of service points is met. On top of the yearly payments, the program would also award a lump sum of $10,000 after 20 years of service.
The lump sum would include the interest accrued over the two decades of service, with the bill requiring a cap of three percent interest for growth in gains. The program’s funding would be derived from an additional percentage diversion from the Fire Insurance Premium Tax, granting a long-term incentive for volunteer recruitment without relying on new funds to be allocated by the state.
John Pope, the President of the Mississippi Firefighter Association and Collins Fire Chief, explained that 33 other states have implemented similar programs in an effort to fight the decreasing number of volunteer firefighters.
“What really drove this is that there’s been a big decrease in volunteerism in the fire service,” Pope stated. “We know there’s a decrease in volunteerism across the board in this day and time, but in the fire service in Mississippi, we’ve seen about approximately a 30 percent decrease in volunteer firefighters in the last number of years.”
Pope added that the current amount of volunteer firefighters across Mississippi are totaling around 9,000.
“The true need for this bill is for the recruitment and retention of volunteer firefighters,” Pope explained. “The volunteer fire service protects over 85 percent or more of the communities in the state of Mississippi. People — more than likely — if they ever have a need for emergency services in their lifetime, they’ll be touched by a volunteer firefighter.”
At this time, the bill has been passed as substituted from the committees of House Appropriations and House Insurance.
“I see this as a bill that could really be a true game changer for the fire service as a whole in the state and also a force multiplier,” Pope said. “It’s just a good tool to support a lot of communities and a lot of good people that step up to help each and every day.”
To see the full interview, continue watching below.
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