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Some Colorado volunteer firefighters will get paid for time they spend fighting fires

Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order authorizing up to five days of paid leave for state employees who serve as volunteer first responders.

KIOWA COUNTY, Colo. — They don't get paid to serve. In fact, their service sometimes pulls them away from their paying day job.

Now, some of Colorado's volunteer firefighters will get paid for some of the time they spend fighting fires.

On Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order directing all state departments to offer up to five days annually of paid administrative leave for any state employee deployed as a volunteer firefighter or first responder in Colorado.

“This will support our men and women in state workforce that want to go above and beyond, that put themselves in danger to protect our home and protect our communities,” Polis said during a press conference Wednesday morning.

“I also want this to serve as example to other employers in Colorado to look at similar policies, support their workforce taking on this responsibility of fighting fires and saving lives. I hope this becomes the norm for every employer in our state," he said.

Polis said the idea came from recent conversations with firefighters in Kiowa County.

“It’s really hard sometimes,” said Russell Watson, District Chief for Kiowa County Fire Protection District. 

“Some employers are really good about letting employees leave, but they do get lost wages," he said. "Other guys are self-employed. So they can leave whenever they feel like it or [when they] can leave. But it's time sensitive. It could be 2 o’clock in the morning where everybody’s available, or it could be 1 o’clock in the afternoon and two people are available.”

Watson’s team was the group that mentioned this idea to the governor. Many volunteer firefighters work full time for the state: in transportation, corrections or other jobs.

“You miss out on four hours [in full-time job pay] in a week because you went on call," Watson said. "That could be dinner, a power bill, something like that. It's huge."

Fire departments hope paid leave from full-time employers will help volunteer departments recruit and retain firefighters -- not just in fire season, but in a tough labor market.

“Out here in rural Colorado, employers need you as much as somebody else who might be having a bad day,” he said.

The Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control said 70% of firefighters in the state are volunteer.

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