ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Two Democratic lawmakers want to create incentives to help recruit more firefighters in New Mexico. House Bill 345 looks to create a Firefighter Recruitment Fund, giving bonuses to folks who start working for a fire department as long as they stay employed there for three years.

“Fire departments are struggling to attract new cadets, and the changing workforce we have seen fire academy enrollment drop year after year. At the same time, we have firefighters retiring in large numbers,” said Representative Cynthia Borrego (D-Bernalillo), co-sponsor of this bill, “All we’re doing in this bill actually is we’re setting up a mechanism to create a fund. We are not doing an allocation at this time.”

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Each fire department will send a report to the department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management each year detailing the number of firefighters employed the year before, how many of them left employment that year versus the number of applicants per department. Based on those numbers, the fund would give money to each department and newly employed firefighters a $5,000 bonus over a three-year period; and if the new firefighter doesn’t stay on for three years, they would have to give that money back.

“This is to help create parity with law enforcement. They had a similar fund that was created last year so we’re creating this fund, so we have a mechanism and a location to put funds in,” an expert witness for the bill said.

An analysis of this bill says it may work to incentivize volunteer firefighters to become career firefighters. It says there are 126 vacancies in Albuquerque, Bernalillo County, Las Cruces, Dona Ana County, and Santa Fe City and County alone.

Representative Borrego says the average salary for New Mexico’s firefighters is more than 50 percent lower than the rest of the U.S.

The bill passed the House Labor Committee; it heads to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.