The state is considering offering tax relief to volunteer firefighters and medics as a way to bolster the department ranks and thank the members for their service.
The bill, which would offer local property tax or earned-income tax relief for active and eligible members, unanimously passed the state House and now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Local fire chiefs in the South Hills of Pittsburgh lauded the bill and hoped it would help to bring in more volunteer firefighters to their depleted ranks.
“Anything that can add an incentive to get more people in the door is well worth it,” Kirwan Heights fire Chief Mark Lewis said. “It’s tough. We had a strong base (of members) 40 years ago, but nowadays we may need a couple paid firefighters to help answer calls. Guys just can’t leave work. Every little bit helps.”
He also pointed to some scholarship programs for volunteer firefighters to continue their schooling.
Bridgeville fire Chief Bill Chilleo said the amount of training firefighters need nowadays has caused some people to think twice about joining. The training is extensive, he said, but vital to what they do to respond to emergencies.
“We put a lot of work in and there’s no money,” Chilleo said. “That’s a lot of time, and that’s what people don’t have anymore because of jobs and families. “
He liked the idea of the local tax cuts and hoped it would benefit the region’s departments.
“That’s a good idea to bring people in,” Chilleo said. “We all need help. We’re all low on manpower. It’s interesting. Hopefully it will help.”
Upper St. Clair Fire Chief Steve Moore, who has been a volunteer for 30 years, said at the last board of commissioners meeting that the department is lucky to be able to keep volunteer firefighters for five years.
The bill allows local governments the ability to offer tax relief if the fire chief or public safety supervisor can prove that a member is active and eligible. There would also be other measures in place to ensure the members are attending training sessions and receiving proper certifications.
“Area volunteer firefighters and paramedics serve a vital role in our communities to keep residents safe,” state Rep. Matt Smith said in a press release. “Their selfless efforts additionally represent a significant tax savings for communities that could otherwise not afford to maintain the same quality paid force.”
Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon added that the legislation would offer additional tools for recruitment and retention of volunteers.
“This is an important tool for local governments to acknowledge the value of the lifesaving services and the savings of taxpayer funding for services provided by these men and women who volunteer their time and risk their lives for their community,” he said.