Montana Public Employee Retirement Administration

The Volunteer Firefighters’ Compensation Act (VFCA) is a length of service award plan for volunteer firefighters in unincorporated areas, towns, or villages under the laws of the State of Montana who are members of eligible volunteer:

  • fire companies,
  • fire departments,
  • fire districts, and
  • fire service areas.

In 1965, the Legislature created the VFCA to grant service retirement, disability retirement, or survivor benefits to plan members and their beneficiaries. The VFCA Pension Trust Fund has two sources of income:

  1. payments from the state; and
  2. income from pension trust fund investments. Income earned from the pension trust fund investments is reinvested in the fund.

MEMBERSHIP

To be considered a member of the VFCA, you are required to perform the duties of a volunteer firefighter. Duties include activities authorized by an officer of the fire company which include travel to, participation in, and return from calls for the following:

  • fire protection;
  • medical assistance;
  • search and rescue assistance; and
  • calls for assistance to protect individual or public health and safety.

This also includes travel to and participation in fire company meetings, training, and public service activities, such as parades.

Your surviving spouse is the beneficiary of your retirement benefit. Upon your death he or she will receive the same benefit paid to you for his or her life. If you do not have a surviving spouse, your benefit will continue to your dependent children, until they are no longer dependent. A dependant child is a child of a deceased member who is not married and:

  • is under 18 years of age, or
  • is under 24 years of age and a full-time student enrolled in an accredited postsecondary educational institution.

You can change your beneficiary designation by completing a VFCA Designation of Beneficiary form and sending the completed document to MPERA.

Any beneficiary change is not effective until the new form is received in our office.*

NOTE: Advise your beneficiary to contact MPERA for complete details about benefits upon your death.

* If your current designation is subject to a temporary restraining order issued under § 40-4-121, MCA, changes will not be effective.

Member Contributions
Because volunteer firefighters who are members of the VFCA receive no pay for their services, they do not contribute to the VFCA trust fund.


State Contributions
Once each year, the state pays the trust fund 5% of certain fire insurance premium taxes collected during the year.

When a member applies for retirement, MPERA will review the member’s entire career to ensure proper credit is granted for all eligible service.

To be eligible for a year of service the following criteria must be met by the fire company and the member:

  • The fire company must meet all eligibility criteria;
  • The member must complete at least 30 hours of training in matters pertaining to firefighting during the fiscal year. The member’s participation in the training program is documented in the fire company’s records maintained pursuant to § 19-17-111, MCA by the chief or designated official;
  • The member must be listed on the original, notarized annual certificate filed with MPERA; and
  • The member has served a complete fiscal year with the same fire company.

An inactive member who later becomes active will retain credit for any prior VFCA service.


Members reported on the annual certificate filed with MPERA must meet all VFCA requirements. Members receive one year of credit for each full fiscal year the member belongs to an eligible company and completes at least 30 hours of documented formal training. To earn one year of credit for a fiscal year, a member must serve with the same fire company for the entire fiscal year. A fiscal year begins July 1 and ends June 30 of the following year. One year of credit is the smallest unit of service a member can earn.

Service for part of a fiscal year will not be credited.

Benefits are based on the law in effect at the time of your retirement date; therefore, some information found here may not apply in specific cases. To be eligible for pension or disability benefits under VFCA, you must meet certain age and service requirements. 

Partial Pension Benefit
You may be eligible for a partial pension benefit if you have at least 10 years of credited service and are at least age 60, but you need not be an active member.

Partial Pension Benefit (at least 60 years of age)
Years of Service Monthly Amount Years of Service Monthly Amount Years of Service Monthly Amount
1-9 $0.00 13 $113.75 17 $148.75
10 $87.50 14 $122.50 18 $157.50
11 $96.25 15 $131.25 19 $166.25
12 $105.00 16 $140.00

You can retire with a full pension benefit after completing at least 20 years of VFCA service and reaching age 55. Your base pension monthly benefit will be $175 per month. You do not need to be an active member of a fire company to apply for a pension benefit when you reach age 55.

You will receive the full pension benefit for your lifetime.

Full Pension Benefit (at least 55 years of age)
20 Years of Credited Service Monthly Benefit = $175.00

Example:
Alex is a volunteer firefighter at the West Kootenai Fire Company. He is 57 years old and just finishing up his 20th year of service. He will be eligible for a monthly benefit of $175 a month when he reaches his 20.

He has notified his Fire Chief that he is retiring and he has emailed MPERA with his retirement date. Once he fills out his retirement packet, he will get paid his pension on the last business day of each month for the rest of his life.

Additional Pension Benefit
If you have more than 20 years of credited service you can draw a benefit based on the additional years of service, up to 30 total years. This benefit is calculated using $7.50 per month for each additional year of service, up to 30 total years.

Additional Pension Benefit
Years of Service Monthly Amount Years of Service Monthly Amount Years of Service Monthly Amount
21 $182.50 25 $212.50 29 $242.50
22 $190.00 26 $220.00 30 250.00
23 $197.50 27 $227.50
24 $205.00 28 $235.00

Example:
Michael has been a volunteer firefighter with the Wheatland County Volunteer Fire Department for 25 years. When he is ready to retire, he will be eligible for the full pension, plus an additional pension benefit of $7.50 a month for each year he worked over 20.

He plans to retire and begin to draw his pension when he has 30 years of service. His monthly benefit will be $250.

A member who retires on or after July 1, 2011 will receive $7.50 per month for each additional year of credited service after 30 years if the pension trust fund is actuarially sound and the amortization period for any unfunded liabilities remains 20 years or less. If the amortization period for the unfunded liabilities is greater than 20 years the member’s monthly benefit must be reduced to the monthly benefit amount for 30 years of credited service.

By October 31 of each year, the actuary determines whether the VFCA pension trust fund is actuarially sound and the amortization period for any unfunded liability remains at 20 years or less. As required by §19-17-404, MCA, the Board then makes pension adjustments for the next 12 months based on the actuary valuation results, commencing with the November benefit.


Survivorship benefits may be available to your surviving spouse or dependent children if you received your benefit for less than 40 months and before your death. No survivorship benefit is available if you receive benefits for 40 months or more before your death. At the request of the
survivor, a lump sum payment for the survivorship benefit may be made instead of a monthly payment.

NOTE: Advise your beneficiary to contact MPERA for complete details about your benefits upon your death.

Disabled members can receive disability benefits without regard to age or the number of years of service. The disability benefit is calculated by multiplying the base pension benefit by a fraction, the numerator being your years of service and the denominator being 20. It is the same as the partial pension benefit except that the numerator cannot be less than 10, therefore, members with one through ten years of service will receive the same benefit, currently $87.50.

The following table shows the benefits available to disabled members calculated using the base benefit of $175.00 with 20 years of service.

 

Disability Benefit (No minimum age limit)
Years of Service Monthly Benefit Years of Service Monthly Benefit Years of Service Monthly Benefit
1-9 $87.50 17 $148.75 25 $218.25
10 $87.50 18 $157.50 26 $227.50
11 $96.25 19 $166.25 27 $236.25
12 $105.00 20 $175.00 28 $245.00
13 $113.75 21 $183.50 29 $253.75
14 $122.50 22 $192.00 30 $262.50
15 $131.25 23 $201.25
16 $140.00 24 $210.00

 

Disability Medical Review
If you are receiving a disability benefit, the Board can require you to undergo periodic medical reviews. A medical review will consist of a review of all medical records and a recent medical exam. A Board approved physician or surgeon must conduct the medical exam. Any medical review can include specific tests to evaluate the disabling condition.

The exam or tests will be done at a place agreed upon by the Board, the physician or surgeon, and the member, and will be at the Board’s expense. The doctor must send the results of the exam or test directly to MPERA.

MPERA’s disability examiner and the Board’s medical expert will review the report and advise the Board. Based on all medical evidence available, the Board will decide whether to continue your disability status.

Disability Benefit Cancellation and Reinstatement
The Board can cancel your disability benefit for any of the following reasons:

  • Your medical condition is no longer permanent and total based on medical data provided to MPERA by the doctor and the member; or
  • You refuse to consent to the medical exam or tests.

Canceling your disability benefit will not affect any other VFCA benefits available to you.

To qualify for any medical or funeral payments at the time of illness, injury or death, you must be included on the current membership roster filed with MPERA. To ensure all members are covered we recommend that the chief or designated official file an amended roster with MPERA whenever there are membership changes.


Medical Expenses
To qualify for payment of medical expenses, you must incur an injury or illness while acting in the line of duty and belong to a fire company that is not covered by workers’ compensation insurance. First, you must apply for payment from your private insurance coverage or from coverage the fire company may have. Once you have exhausted other insurance coverage and with approval from the Board, MPERA will pay up to $25,000 for any remaining medical expense claims.

Treatment does not need to be in a hospital, but must require the services of a doctor or nurse. Payment is limited to expenses billed within 36 months of the date of the injury or illness. Total payment cannot be more than the necessary and reasonable out-of-pocket expenses or $25,000, whichever is less.

If an injury incurred in the line of duty results in the loss by amputation of an arm, hand, leg, foot, or the loss of an eye, or any natural teeth, the Board shall authorize either a payment for the cost of a prosthesis or a payment of $1,500 to help defray the cost of a prosthesis, whichever is less. Payments to replace a prosthesis are limited to $1,500 every five years.

To file a claim for medical expenses, you or the fire chief need to contact MPERA after initial treatment of the injury. MPERA will provide a form for you and the fire chief to complete. Claims must be submitted within 12 months from the date you incurred the injury or illness. Bills received after filing the claim, but within 36 months of the injury or illness, can be added
to the claim. A competent medical professional and the member must verify the claim.

After the Board approves the claim, MPERA will pay the appropriate provider of the medical care or the claimant if he or she provides documentation of the full payment of the medical care.

Funeral Expenses
To qualify for funeral expenses, a volunteer firefighter must, at the time of death, be a member of an eligible fire company, be listed on the fire company roster in the year the death occurred, and die in the line of duty.

Anyone filing a claim for funeral expenses should contact MPERA for the necessary form. A survivor, or any person acting for the member’s estate, may submit a verified claim for funeral expenses with the Board within 12 months from the member’s date of death. Upon Board approval, MPERA will pay reasonable expenses or $1,500, whichever is less, to the appropriate provider of the funeral services or the claimant if he or she provides documentation of the full payment of the funeral expenses.

FIRE COMPANIES

For a fire company to be eligible to participate in VFCA, certain requirements must be met. To verify the requirements, the following documents must be sent to MPERA:

  • The fire company’s name and mailing address;
  • The name of the fire chief and designated official, if any;
  • A copy of the meeting minutes from the County Commissioners or governing board establishing the fire district and/or fire service area. If the meeting minutes are unavailable, a copy of the first filing with the county clerk of the county in which they are located.
  • Identification of the portion of the fire district area serviced by the company;
  • Written documentation that the area serviced is located in an unincorporated area; and
  • Documentation that the fire company maintains firefighting equipment that is in serviceable condition and owns, rents, or uses one or more buildings for the storage of the equipment. The equipment and buildings must be valued at $12,000 or more.

Each year, the chief or designated official of each fire company must file an annual certificate of membership and fire company eligibility with MPERA. The certificate is a turnaround document prepared by MPERA and mailed at the end of June to all eligible fire companies on file. Each fire company’s chief or designated official must complete and verify the birth date, social security number, entry date, and training received for each member on the certificate. Only members that received at least 30 hours of training in firefighting duties and served for the entire fiscal year with a single fire company are eligible for credit.

The original certificate must be notarized and returned to MPERA by September 1. Certificates will be kept on file at MPERA to verify a member’s service and eligibility for benefits. The annual certificate must supply the following information:

The chief’s or designated officer’s signature, which confirms:

A formal training program was available and all listed members completed at least 30 hours of training during the previous fiscal year (July 1 to June 30). Listed members served with the company during the entire fiscal year; and equipment maintained and buildings owned, rented or used by the company were maintained in usable condition and valued at $12,000 or more.
Full name, social security number, birth date, and service entry date for each member completing 30 hours of training. (List only those members who served with the company for the entire fiscal year and completed 30 hours of training).

 

 

The fire chief or designated official must file a list of all current year members with MPERA by September 1 of each year. This roster must also include the following information:
  • Date the fire company was organized;
  • Name of the company; and
  • List of officers and roll of active and inactive members.
However, fire chiefs should file a new list of members with MPERA whenever there is a change in membership.

A VFCA Membership/Designation of Beneficiary Card must be completed for new members and existing members who have a change in personal information. The Membership/Designation of Beneficiary Cards need to be filed by September 1 of each year.

Fire companies are encouraged to carry supplemental insurance to provide benefits to members who are injured or die in the line of duty. To help pay the cost of supplemental insurance, the trust fund will pay $75 to the fire company (or the organization maintaining the supplemental insurance for the fire company) for each unit of motorized mobile firefighting equipment, not to exceed $150 per year.


Each November, MPERA will send the Supplemental Group Insurance Payments Application form to active qualified fire companies (see Eligibility tab). The application must be returned to MPERA by December 31 of each year and include the following information:

  • The number of mobile units;
  • Proof of supplemental insurance;
  • Tax identification number of fire company; and
  • A current fiscal year roster of all members, filed by the chief or designated official with MPERA on or before September 1.

Training must include matters pertaining to firefighting and be available for all members. The course or plan of instruction for this training program must include at least 30 hours of instruction per year per member.


NOTE: Recognized training does not include fire hall and vehicle maintenance, or emergency calls or business meetings to conduct the business of the fire company.

The chief or designated official of each fire company shall keep and properly maintain training records and allowable payment records for each current and former volunteer firefighter who is or was a member of the fire company. This ensures that all members receive credit for their service and are eligible for benefits.
§ 19-17-113, MCA gives guidance in the case of corrections, audits, and penalties. The Board may require a fire company to furnish additional information concerning members in connection with an audit or a claim for benefits or service.

Late or amended annual certificates must be filed within 3 years of the original annual certificate due date and may be amended only once. Late or amended certificates must include the following information: a letter to the Board from the fire chief explaining why the annual certificate was not filed timely; the original, notarized annual certificate; and certified training
documents.

  • Late filed training information must include:
  • Date of training
  • Hours of training
  • Title of training
  • Certification of training record from fire chief
  • Who attended
  • Complete description of training