As volunteer fire, EMS departments struggle with recruitment, lawmakers propose new bill to help

Bill would provide tax credits

Proposal to recruit volunteer firefighters and EMS

MADISON, Wis. - A new proposal at the state Capitol aims to incentivize people to become volunteer firefighters and emergency medical services workers in Wisconsin as many departments around the country struggle to find volunteers.

"Right now, we have a huge problem with trying to get volunteers to participate in their local fire departments. Of our 863 fire departments in the state of Wisconsin, 701 rely on volunteers," said Sen. Patrick Testin, a Republican from Stevens Point. 

Chanse Kaczmarski, deputy chief of the Belleville Fire Department, said the most difficult part for volunteers is the time commitment involved with the job, as they often are juggling a full-time job with a family at the same time.

"We operate 365 days a year so it takes out of holidays and other family events," Kaczmarski said.

He said his department luckily has not faced challenges with recruitment, but retention has been a bit of an issue.

So what happens when a department can't get the volunteers needed?

"It means there's a delay in response because now you're waiting for a firetruck to come from another community," Kaczmarski said.

To address the problem, Testin and Rep. Jeff Mursau, R-Crivitz, began working on a bipartisan bill that would provide tax credits to volunteer firefighters and EMS crews. On the same day their proposal was introduced, a bill aiming to address the same issue and do something very similar was introduced by Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, and Rep. Treig Pronschinske, R-Mondovi.

The four lawmakers are now in the process of combining their two bills into one. Testin said he believes their blended proposal would provide three types of refundable tax credits. New volunteers would get a tax credit when they join. Then, that credit would increase after five years to encourage retention. The third type of credit would provide reimbursement to volunteers for minor expenses such as equipment and travel and training expenses.

"Right now, there really isn't any incentive whatsoever, and in today's day and age, where it's so difficult to attract people into certain professions, we're trying to remove any hurdles into entry into this type of work," Testin said.

But are incentives the answer for departments that are struggling with recruitment and retention?

"I think they could help; I don't think they're going to hurt. Ultimately, our firefighters aren't here looking for money or tax credits. They want to serve their community and do what's right by their neighbors," Kaczmarski said.

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