Attracting and retaining volunteers to fill the ranks of Maine’s many volunteer fire departments has gotten increasingly difficult, but lawmakers hope a bill to fund a pension program for volunteers could change that.
The Legislature approved a bill in 2017 setting up the pension program but did not fund it. A new bill sponsored by Sen. Erin Herbig, D-Belfast, would put $2.5 million a year in state funds toward a pension fund.
Herbig told the Legislature’s Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee Friday that 40 other states have similar programs, and the ability to reward long-time volunteers with a small pension when they retire helps keep volunteer departments alive. Herbig said 93 percent of the state’s fire services depend on volunteers but the number of people volunteering has dramatically decreased in recent years in Maine and across the nation.