Combined Service Pensions

Minnesota law permits defined-benefit relief associations to pay combined service pensions to members with service in more than one volunteer fire department. A combined service pension is a service pension that combines years of service among multiple volunteer fire departments to determine when a volunteer firefighter is vested. 

To pay a combined service pension, the bylaws of each participating relief association must allow the combined service pension payments, or be amended to do so. 

In addition, for vesting, a member must have at least ten years of total service, unless each participating relief association requires only five years of service for vesting, in which case the member must have at least five total years of service to be eligible for the combined service pension.

Assets are not transferred between or among relief associations when a combined service pension is payable. When a member who is eligible for a combined service pension retires, the member is paid a pension from each participating relief association in which the member has accrued at least one year of active service credit. The service pensions are calculated as they would be for other retiring members, except that years of service among all participating relief associations are combined for vesting purposes.

Because years of service are combined for vesting purposes, the service pension amount paid from each participating relief association is more than would otherwise be payable. This is why the bylaws of each participating relief association must specifically authorize combined service pension payments in order for them to be offered. In addition, because the vesting percentage is based on the combined service in all participating fire departments, the pension amount cannot be calculated or paid until the member permanently ceases all firefighting duties.

Transferring pension assets from one relief association to another is not authorized without special legislation.

For additional information, including examples, see the OSA’s Statement of Position on this topic.

Published last in the June 2015 Pension Newsletter