New Jersey Township Considers Rewards Program for Volunteer Firefighters

Morris Township, N.J.-- The township committee will consider a system that financially rewards volunteer firefighters for being more active in the fire department.

The proposed Volunteer Incentive Program, or VIP, would pay township volunteer firefighters $650 to $1,150 per year for answering fire calls, attending training courses and other events and attending meetings.

The goal is to retain firefighters with busy personal schedules in the fire department and to attract new volunteers, said fire Chief Craig Goss.

Of the 70 to 100 volunteers in the township fire department, Goss said, only 40 to 50 are considered active, meaning that they frequently respond to fire calls and attend meetings and events.

Time pressures

Response to calls has been decreasing over the years as firefighters, such as those with young families or who live and work away from the township, have to contend with increasingly busier schedules.

"We're just trying to get that little piece of time," Goss said.

Under the plan, firefighters would earn points based on how much they participate. For instance, if a firefighter responds to 10 to 20 percent of the department's incident calls, he or she would earn 15 points, whereas a firefighter who responds to 51 percent or more calls would earn 50 points.

The latter percentage would qualify that firefighter for the minimum payment of $650 at the end of the calendar year. A firefighter can earn a maximum of $1,150 for 91 or more points. The additional points can be accrued by attending meetings, drills and other events.

Goss said that the program could be useful in simply keeping firefighters certified. Some, he said, do not attend the six fire drills each year mandated by the state.

The VIP program would apply only to volunteers, not to the 22 paid township firefighters.

Retroactive plan

If approved on Oct. 18, the VIP program would be retroactive to Jan. 1 of this year. Records of each firefighter's participation have been kept since then.

The program resembles the state Length of Service Awards Program, which allows local fire departments to let members accrue money for the length of time they stay active members.

Morris Township officials and firefighters looked at LOSAP, but favored the participation-based program instead. Township administrator Fred Rossi said unlike LOSAP, the VIP program could be administered solely through the fire department's chiefs and captains. LOSAP also requires the funds be invested by a state-certified contractor.

Goss also said that firefighters would be receiving money at the end of each year, whereas under LOSAP, they would have to serve for five years before being able to withdraw any money they have accrued.

The creation of a LOSAP also involves a vote by the public, whereas the VIP requires only the vote of the township committee.

Republished with permission of the Daily Record