To celebrate National First Responders Day, Harford officials highlight the expansion of pension and student loan benefits for fire and EMS volunteers.
Harford County celebrated National First Responders Day, October 28, with a proclamation in honor of those who help others in an emergency.
In addition, legislation proposed by County Executive Barry Glassman, and approved by the County Council earlier this month, expanded eligibility for the county’s volunteer fire and EMS providers to qualify for pension benefits. The new law lowers the eligibility age from 55 to 50 years old for those with 25 or more years of service and lowers the age from 70 to 60 years old for those with five consecutive years of service and at least 10 active years. The legislation also removes the monthly cap on benefits that can be earned by longtime volunteers.
Harford County relies entirely on volunteers for its fire service and has a combination of paid county paramedics, along with Harford County Foundation EMS providers operating in 12 volunteer fire and ambulance companies.
To attract and retain active volunteers, Harford County’s NEXT GEN Responder program offers student loan repayment assistance of up to $5,000 per year for up to four years. The program was initiated last year by County Executive Glassman, a former EMT with the Level Volunteer Fire Company, and is believed to be the first of its kind in Maryland.
Since its inception, Harford’s NEXT GEN Responder program has helped pay down student loans for 76 volunteer EMTs and firefighters.
According to the Press Release:
“We are blessed to have volunteer firefighters and dedicated professionals, including EMTs, paramedics, 911 dispatchers and law enforcement officers, who answer calls around the clock to help their fellow citizens,” County Executive Glassman said. “On what may be someone’s worst day, these skilled responders protect and save lives. We appreciate their service on National First Responders Day and every day in Harford County.”
Harford’s work to support volunteer fire and EMS underlines the importance of this service throughout Maryland. For several decades retention and recruitment of volunteers has declines. In an effort to help address this issue statewide and nationally, MACo has made supporting volunteer firefighters a top priority for the 2023 legislative session. MACo’s plan is to create a commission to study financial and other incentives to help better support volunteer first responders. If the bill passes, the commission will issue two reports, one in 2023 outlining financial incentives and one in 2024 outlining nonfinancial incentives.