NEW JERSEY – Legislation sponsored by Senator Anthony M. Bucco and Senator Mike Doherty supporting essential volunteer and professional firefighters in the state cleared the Senate Thursday and now moves to the Governor’s desk for review.
Under the measure, which would increase the maximum eligibility age to benefit from membership from 45 to 57, firefighters could begin working with the fire service later in life and still qualify for exempt status.
“Communities across our state rely on volunteer firefighters to protect lives and property,” said Bucco (R-25), a 40-year member and former captain with the Boonton Volunteer Fire Department. “I am proud of my volunteer service and proud of this legislation, which will benefit paid firefighters, as well. It will help bolster the volunteer ranks and better acknowledge the contributions of dedicated volunteers who put the needs of their neighbors above their own.”
Under current law, firefighters are required to join the fire service between the ages of 18 and 45 in order to be eligible for an exempt fireman certificate. To qualify for an exempt status, volunteers must have responded to a minimum of 60 percent of their department’s fire duty calls over a seven-year period.
“Volunteer firefighters are essential assets for our communities, especially in suburban and rural areas,” Doherty (R-23) said. “Age does not affect the selfless commitment of volunteer responders who willingly drop what they are doing to answer the call at any hour. The current age limits fail to reflect today’s realities. By expanding the age requirements, we can attract more dedicated candidates to the fire service to help keep our towns and cities safe.”
Formed in 1885, the New Jersey State Firemen’s Association includes any fire company, department or fire district that is under municipal control. The mission of the association is to establish, provide for and maintain a fund for the relief, support or burial of needy firefighters and their families, and the families of any person who is injured or dies as the result of doing public fire duty.
The nonprofit NJSFA provides burial benefits and relief assistance to qualified firefighters and their dependents, based on the length of firefighter service with a maximum payment of $12,000 for a fully qualified member.
The Assembly version of the bill was approved by a vote of 75-0 in January.