Cooper signs bill to help firefighters struggling with finances

Wednesday, July 26th, 2017
By Philip Sayblack,  Rocky Mount Telegram

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

There is good news for North Carolina firefighters struggling with their finances.

Gov. Roy Cooper recently signed House Bill 190 into law. Known as the Local Firefighter Relief Fund Eligibility Bill, the new law lessens the amount of time that a financially struggling firefighter must serve with a certified fire department in order to be eligible to receive financial aid from a local firefighters fund.

According to the new law, which garnered bipartisan support in the legislature, firefighters are no longer required to be employed at a certified fire department for five years before being deemed eligible for financial assistance. The removal of that requirement was something that N.C. Rep. Bobbie Richardson, D-Nash, said she liked about the legislation.

“A new firefighter faces many of the same hardships as a firefighter who has been working for five years, so it is good to see that wording amended,” Richardson said.

Shelly Willingham, D-Edgecombe, said firefighters everywhere, especially is smaller towns, can struggle with their finances.

“I think anything that we can do to help our first responders, we ought to do,” Willingham said. “Many small towns have the problem of firefighters struggling. If we don’t recognize them, nothing will be done.” 

Richardson agreed.

“Our firefighters are a very vital entity to our communities,” Richardson said. “If they can rescue us in our time of need, the least we can do is to help them when they most need our assistance. It is hard to vote against benefits for people who put their lives on the line for us every single day.”

Rocky Mount Assistant Fire Chief Ronnie Raper said he thought the new law would benefit firefighters statewide.

This new law is a positive change that will benefit all firefighters working with certified fire departments, and not just those who have served for five years,” Raper said.

“I think it’s a good bill,” Nash County Emergency Services Deputy Director Scott Rogers said. “I think it could help a lot in a lot of ways.”

Rogers said the new law “could be especially beneficial in recruiting volunteer firefighters.” He added it could help full-time firefighters, too, though he was hopeful they wouldn’t need it.

The new law requires certificates to be filed with the N.C. State Firefighters Association instead of the N.C. Commissioner of Insurance. The final decision on a firefighter’s eligibility for financial assistance would be made by the agency’s executive director if the local relief fund’s board approves the certificate.

“It used to be that fire departments had to report to the firefighters association and the insurance commissioner’s office,” Rogers said. “Now they report everything to the firefighters association, and only certain items go to the insurance commissioner.”

The new law took effect July 1.

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