BELTON — There’s a long road ahead as city leaders here push for Texas lawmakers to change the state’s age limit for beginning civil service firefighters.

Mayor Marion Grayson and City Manager Sam Listi can check off at least one milestone: Gaining the support of the Texas Municipal League.

The two Belton leaders last week presented a proposal at the advocacy group’s annual conference to push for a change in the state’s civil service laws. The city wants the Legislature to do one of two things in 2021: Completely eliminate the maximum hiring age for all civil service employees or increase the firefighter age limit to 45 to match the police officer ceiling.

“Our reasoning behind that is that it is difficult to hire firefighters,” Grayson said.

The mayor said changing the law would allow veterans who recently retired from the military and who are older than the current age limit to become firefighters.

City spokesman Paul Romer said the Texas Municipal League — a nonprofit organization that advocates for 1,161 cities— “overwhelmingly approved Belton’s proposal to modify the 35-year age limit for beginning firefighters in civil service cities.”

Listi, in his presentation to the Texas Municipal League, said many civil service cities faced difficulty with firefighter staffing because of the age limit — including Belton.

The Belton Fire Department lost 17 firefighters in the past year and a half, Listi said. Many left the city to work for better paying fire departments in the region.

Listi described the city as having had an “acute” experience.

An untapped pool of potential firefighter candidates sits just 20 miles away from the county seat, Grayson said: Fort Hood.

Several City Council members in July brought up that point when they approved a resolution calling for a bill to change the beginning firefighter age limit.

“There are so many guys who roll out with 20 years, they went in right after high school, they learned life and they want to plug in here — and they’re 38 years old,” Councilman David K. Leigh said at the time.

The age limit on firefighters has been in place since 1987 when lawmakers established the state’s civil service laws. The law states that a person cannot take an entrance firefighter exam or be hired if they are 36 or older.

“Thirty-five is a killer,” Councilman John Holmes said in June.

Grayson is optimistic about the Legislature changing the age limit for civil service firefighters. She said it will take a coalition of local governments — especially cities such as Belton that are near military installations — to pursue the bill.

“Our first priority is public safety,” the mayor said.