Florida, Carroll County Trying To Increase Firefighting Award Fund

The Carroll County commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance yesterday that shifts $7 million earmarked for volunteer firefighters with at least 25 years of service into a retirement plan that officials hope will become self-sustaining.

Carroll County has contributed money to the Length of Service Award Program since 1976 and sets aside about $300,000 a year for the fund. The county's contribution nearly equals the amount distributed to 151 volunteer firefighters annually. Firefighters who meet the minimum of 25 years of service receive $110 a month. For each additional year of service firefighters receive $4 more per month.

"This fund has to continue," said Commissioner Perry L. Jones Jr., a volunteer firefighter with the Union Bridge company. "A lot of people drawing from this are in their 80s and are charter members of the firemen's association."

Commissioner Dean L. Minnich agreed. "It's a small appreciation for a lifetime of dedication," he said.

Survivors of firefighters who had at least 25 years of service to the county receive a death benefit of $5,000.

The county received approval from the General Assembly this year to transfer the $7 million LOSAP fund from its general fund to a trust fund, hoping to earn up to five times more than the 1.5 percent interest averaged in the general fund, said Steven Powell, the county's chief of staff.

He said the idea to move the money out of the county's general fund and into a separate retirement account - much like a pension plan - came with the blessing of the Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association, which held its first meeting Monday night. The association was formed recently after the merger of three groups representing firefighters, ambulance drivers and paramedics, and fire chiefs.

County Comptroller Eugene G. Curfman, a volunteer firefighter with nearly 37 years of experience with the Union Bridge and Harney fire companies, told association members Monday night that investment changes to the LOSAP fund could increase the minimum benefits distributed to firefighters. He also said that it would be months before the changes are implemented, pending the results of an actuarial study.

Curfman also said that investing the money as in a pension fund could make the LOSAP account self-sustaining.