Volunteer Firefighters

NATaT Supports Small Financial Incentives for Volunteer First Responders

Volunteers comprise 71% of firefighters in the United States and save local communities of all sizes an estimated nearly $140 billion a year. Of the total number of volunteer firefighters, 95% work in communities with a population of 25,000 or less. Volunteer firefighters provide the first line of defense for many types of emergencies, including fires, emergency medical incidents, terrorist events, natural disasters, and other general public service calls. However, recent reports demonstrate that the number of volunteer firefighters has drastically declined and that this decline stems from difficulties in recruiting and retaining these essential volunteers. Reasonable financial incentives for volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel serve as important recruitment and retention tools for local emergency response departments who are struggling to meet increased demand.

The Volunteer Emergency Responder Tax Deduction Act, H.R. 343, would allow volunteer emergency services personnel to claim the first 300 hours per year of services that they provide as charitable donations worth $20/hour. Individuals who took full advantage of this deduction could reduce their annual federal taxable income by $6,000 – a significant recruitment and retention tool.

The Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act, H.R. 2752/S. 609, would amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to exclude property tax benefits and up to $600 per year in other benefits provided to volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel from employment taxes and wage withholding. These benefits were in law from 2007 to 2010.

NATaT supports the Volunteer Emergency Services Recruitment and Retention Act, H.R. 1171/S. 616, that would clarify the IRS’s treatment of pension-like benefits to volunteer first responders called Length of Service Award Programs (LOSAPs). Nearly 20% of the 800,000 volunteer firefighters in the United States participate in some type of LOSAP. Unfortunately, there are several problems with the way that LOSAPs are treated under the tax code that make it unnecessarily difficult for departments to administer plans and for volunteer emergency personnel to receive the benefits. This legislation would simplify the taxation of LOSAPs without increasing federal spending or reducing tax revenues

With the ranks of volunteer fire and EMS personnel declining but still critically needed, the federal government should provide small incentives to these volunteers who risk their lives for little or no compensation. The cost of these incentives to the federal government would be minimal compared to the estimated cost savings provided by volunteer emergency services.

To learn more, download the full policy paper.