History of HFRRF
Establishing the Fund - Houston developed a paid fire department in 1895. Firefighters did not receive compensation if they became disabled or retired. In 1902, Houston firefighters formed the American Federation of Labor No. 9629 and lobbied for changes in the city’s Charter for firefighter and police pensions. The labor group developed into the Houston Professional Fire Fighters Association (HPFFA) and became IAFF Local 341 in 1932.
In 1937, a group of Houston firefighters created an organized plan to provide income for firefighters and their families during retirement or disability. They went to Austin and helped enact legislation to establish a statewide system allowing firefighters to build their own pension funds. The City attempted to block the legislation, but failed and the Fund was founded. Initially, the Fund collected dues based on 1% of the firefighter's annual salary. Members 55+ with 20+ years at HFD were eligible for the pension which totaled $100 per month. A five-member board of trustees was put in control of the Fund and its management. Trustees included the mayor acting as chairman, city treasurer, and three firefighters elected by their peers. The first board meeting was held May 26, 1937, with Mayor Fonville presiding. When the mayor was not able to attend, the vice chair, one of the firefighters, ran the board meetings.
Expanding the Board - In 1958, the state statute was modified for cities with populations over 500,000, adding two active firefighters and two citizen members for a total of nine trustees with a firefighter serving as chairman. Firefighters now had more control with five board trustees. The larger board was necessary to handle the growing Fund. In 1968, a retired firefighter position was added.
Separate Legislative Authority - As a result of Houston firefighter efforts, Section 6243e.2 of the Texas Civil Statutes was enacted in 1975 and applied to cities with a firefighter’s pension fund and population of no less than 1.2 million. Houston was the only qualified city in Texas at the time. The contribution rate of the members was set at 7.7% of individual firefighter’s pay, with a matching actuarially calculated contribution from the City at least twice the member contribution (15.4%).
Mandatory Enrollment - The most significant change in the pension during the 1975 legislation was the new law mandated all new firefighters under the age of 36 must enroll in the Fund when they joined the Houston Fire Department. This change ensured retirement and disability benefits for all Houston firefighters and removed the burden of having to find voluntary care and/or raise contributions for non-participating firefighters and their families when income was lost due to retirement, disability, or death.
Board Takes Control - Daily operations were performed by City of Houston employees until 1988 when the Board of Trustees assumed full authority of the Fund and hired its own staff as permitted by statute. The board also hired a custodian bank, Boston Safe Deposit and Trust Company (now BNY Mellon). The Fund set up an independent office at 602 Sawyer.
DROP, Legislative Recodification and Benefit Improvements – in response to intense discussions and advocacy by firefighters in 1995, the Texas Legislature approved the creation of the Deferred Option Retirement Program (DROP) as an incentive to keep experience Houston firefighters in service. The following session, the Legislature recodified Texas Civil Statutes and renamed our governing documents into Section 6243e.2(1). From 1997 through 2007, each time the Legislature met in Austin, at least one bill was passed that helped retired firefighters and their families, including spousal coverage, cost of living adjustments, lump-sum payments, and technical corrections. Along the way, the members’ contributions increased to 9% of individual firefighter’s pay, effective in 2004; with the City contribution moving up to a minimum of 18% (adjusted as necessary by the annual actuarial analysis).
A Home for the Fund - in the late 1990s, planning began to move the Fund from rental space in downtown Houston to a unique property near Bush Intercontinental Airport. The plans included a Firefighter Memorial, an event and conference center and plenty of office space with room to grow. After the building was completed, the Fund moved into our current location in March of 2001.
Rising to the Occasion - only a few months after the Fund moved, when our nation was rocked by the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001, thousands of travelers were stranded at our airports. Within hours, we converted our conference center into a Red Cross shelter and temporarily housed and fed over 200 stranded travelers for several days.
Houston Pension Reform – In 2017, as part of a broad “pension reform” effort affecting all three City of Houston pension systems, the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 2190 making significant alterations to HFRRF’s benefits, closed DROP for new firefighters, as well as enacting a new “corridor” funding mechanism. The new law raised the contribution rate for members of the fund from 9% to 10.5% of individual firefighter’s pay.
We have built our reputation on solid framework, sound investments, and service-oriented principles. Taking care of our members is priority.