Over 9,000 volunteer firefighters in Mississippi will now be able to receive annual payments as an incentive to continue serving communities throughout the state.
Governor Tate Reeves signed “The Mississippi Length of Service Award Program” (House Bill 521) into law on Monday, allowing volunteers to receive up to $500 each year if a minimum number of service points are met.
“I believe that House Bill 521 is the potential for a game changer in our efforts to recruit and to retain our volunteer firefighters across the state,” Reeves said. “This program creates individual accounts for every volunteer firefighter across our state.”
On top of the yearly payments, the program will also award a lump sum of $10,000 after 20 years of service. The lump sum will include the interest accrued over the two decades of service with a cap of three percent interest for growth in gains.
“To me, this is a tremendous win for Mississippi,” Reeves said. “We know that we live in a rural state and volunteer firefighters are incredibly important. Ultimately, it will help make all Mississippians safer and we appreciate the sacrifice of all of our firefighters.”
The program’s funding will 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 resident of the Mississippi Firefighter Association and Collins Fire Chief, stated his appreciation and approval of the legislature following the bill’s signing.
“The fire service of the state of Mississippi is made up — as it has been said — of career and volunteer firefighters, but the majority of that group is made up of volunteers,” Pope explained. “We appreciate those that have served prior, those who are currently serving, and that will serve in the future and we believe this piece of legislation will truly do that.”
Pope added that he hopes the program will increase the state’s number of volunteer firefighters and incentivize Mississippians to volunteer in their communities.
“As we look throughout the nation, we’ve seen a decrease in the number of volunteer firefighters,” Pope said. “We’re hoping that this will be something that will spark new interest and reinvigorate the fire service. Mississippi has a strong fire service heritage and legacy, and we know that this is yet another piece.”