Five Underused Benefits for Texas Volunteer Firefighters
Texas Volunteer Firefighter Benefits
Volunteer firefighters make up 77% of the Texas fire service but few are aware of their available benefits. As an active volunteer, Texas firefighters may have access to:
- Tuition Exempt College
- Pension Retirement
- On Duty Disability
- Grant Funded Training at Texas A&M University (TEEX)
- Free Courses via the Texas Division of Emergency Management.
The following is a brief overview of these listed benefits.
Tuition Exempt College
Texas volunteer firefighters who are in good standing with their department and have volunteered for over one year may be eligible for tuition free college.
The Texas State Legislature enacted tuition exemption for qualified firefighters in 2009 (Texas Education Code 54.353). The intent is to better equip Texas firefighters in both their expertise and public service management.
The tuition exemption covers a wide range of programs from professional certifications to a PhD in Public Administration and Management. The key is determining eligibility and following through with mandatory requirements. The tuition exemption program is a $10,000 to $80,000+ benefit that many volunteer firefighters leave on the table.
- Be an active member of an eligible volunteer fire department* for at least one year.
- Hold an SFFMA Advanced or TCFP Firefighter II Certification.
- Enroll in an approved fire science education program.
*An eligible volunteer fire department participates in the Texas Emergency Services Retirement System or a retirement system established under the Texas Local Fire Fighters Retirement Act
Many Texas volunteer firefighters are eligible for retirement benefits following ten years of service. However, many never file for their earned benefit.
The Texas Emergency Services Retirement System (TESRS) administers a state pension system for volunteer fire and emergency personnel and currently provides retirement benefits for over 220 member departments across Texas.
At 10 years of service, volunteer firefighters belonging to a TESRS department are eligible for half-vested retirement benefits. This half-vestment period provides a limited lifetime annuity beginning at age 55. At 15 years, firefighters are fully vested and their pension compounds with each additional year of service.
The total benefit ranges from $108/mo to $405+/mo in lifetime payments. Due to the lifetime nature of the payment, this is potentially a $100k benefit that often goes unused.
- Be an active member in a TESRS department.
- Volunteer a minimum of 10 qualified years.
- Attend 20 hours of annual training and 25% of the department's emergency calls per year.
- The participating department must conduct a minimum of 48 hours of training in a calendar year.
On Duty Disability
Volunteer firefighters encounter numerous hazards during their service. An on duty injury can be significant to a both a firefighter's volunteer responsibilities and civilian career. In addition to department assistance, a volunteer firefighter may have access to $300+/mo TESRS disability payments following an injury.
- Must volunteer for a Texas Emergency Services Retirement System affiliated department.
- Become disabled during the performance of emergency service duties.
- Be unable to perform duties for the department or
- Be unable to perform the duties of any other occupation for which they're reasonably suited by education, training, and experience.
While $300/mo may not support a household, it's a small contribution that can mean a lot following an on duty injury.
Grant Funded Training at Texas A&M University (TEEX)
Texas A&M Engineering & Extension Service's (TEEX) Annual Fire Training School may be the funnest week a Texas Volunteer Firefighter can experience. The school draws firefighters from all over the state and takes place one week each summer at Brayton Fire Field in College Station,Texas.
The purpose of the Municipal Fire School is to better equip Texas' municipal firefighters. The Texas A&M Forest Service (TFS) offers to fully cover attendance in support of this mission, which may include lodging and meals. The only requirement is contacting TFS for voucher eligibility.
Numerous courses are available at the municipal school with the most notable being those leading to SFFMA Advanced and Emergency Medical Responder certifications. Additional courses include rescue, extrication, leadership, and instructor curriculum with even more to explore.
- Be a member of a TFS voucher applying department.
- Meet all prerequisites outlined by TFS and TEEX.
The total benefit package equals $1,000 to $1,500 per year. Many firefighters use the week of free lodging as a mini vacation for their families while they attend school. It's a unique experience for any volunteer fire family.
Courses via Texas DPS Emergency Management
The Texas Division of Emergency Management's Preparing Texas offers free courses to Texas public servants. Most courses are one to three days in length and cover a variety of topics such as incident management, hazardous materials, confined space rescue, and disaster response.
Students attending each course receive a certificate of completion and may be eligible for continuing education hours.
- Create an account on Preparing Texas.
- Affiliate with your department.
- Register for eligible courses.
A two week view of available courses via Preparing Texas
Texas Volunteer Firefighters have many benefits available to them. Tuition exemption, retirement, disability, annual fire training school, and Preparing Texas courses provide a benefits package that can equal over $250,000. The key is claiming benefits earned and taking advantage of those that are currently available.