Firefighter recruitment fund bill advances
By Robert Nott, The Santa Fe New Mexican
Nearly a year after two federal prescribed burns ignited a historic wildfire northwest of Las Vegas, N.M., devastating communities in more than 530 square miles of Northern New Mexico, the House Labor, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee has approved a bill that aims to help attract and retain firefighters to fight such blazes.
House Bill 345 would create a firefighter recruitment fund to provide bonuses to firefighters who join a fire department.
The bill calls for a $5,000 bonus for each new recruit who stays on the job three years. The bill does not include an appropriation or estimate the cost of providing the bonuses. Instead, it would set up a fund with a goal of drawing future money from federal grants, state income earned from investments and legislative appropriations. Rep. Cynthia Borrego, D-Albuquerque, who co-sponsored the bill, said in an interview the sponsors decided to “get a mechanism in place for the funding first and then come back with funding and rules” during next year’s legislative session.
Rep. Tara Lujan, D-Albuquerque, another co-sponsor, said there may be other funding sources, such as federal grants, available that lawmakers can access before next year’s legislation to start the fund.
The fund would be administered by the state Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Fire officials who attended Tuesday’s hearing lauded the bill, which next goes to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee for consideration.
They said HB 345 can make a difference when it comes to increasing firefighter numbers in a state prone to wildfires.
Capt. Martin Salazar of Albuquerque Fire Rescue said in an interview after the hearing a $5,000 incentive could help pull people into a profession that does not pay as well in New Mexico as in other states.
Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the mean annual salary for firefighters nationwide is $55,290.