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Proposals aim to retain volunteer firefighters, EMS

MADISON (WKOW) - State and federal lawmakers are introducing proposals to help communities struggling to find volunteer firefighters and EMS workers.

In Wisconsin, a bipartisan proposal would provide up to $1,500 in tax credits to help volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel to use towards housing, training, and equipment.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, more than 90 percent of Wisconsin’s fire departments are staffed with volunteers that rural areas rely on.

Edgerton’s Deputy Fire Chief Jason Russ said retaining volunteers is a tough task. Those who provide voluntary service say it can be difficult to juggle with a family and a full-time job.

“Staffing is becoming more and more difficult all over the state," said Russ. “I think a lot of it has to do with wages and the economy.”

Russ said while volunteers don’t sign up for the money, having some incentives might help attract more people.

A group of bipartisan lawmakers who introduced the proposal call it the "BRAVE ACT." It allows firefighters and EMS crews a $300 tax credit in their first five years on the job, and $600 a year for those who volunteer beyond five years. Other credits they could receive include up to $900 to pay for training and equipment.

“I hope it changes the idea of people to relook at volunteering in their communities once again. We've lost a lot and to have volunteers come back and support their local community is ideal," said Russ.

In Congress, a similar proposal by Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisconsin) would offer discounted home prices to volunteer firefighters and EMT workers. It would build upon a program run through the U.S. Department of Agriculture that provides rural areas with loan guarantees. 

“Fire departments in Wisconsin and throughout the nation rely heavily on volunteer firefighters and EMS first responders,” said Baldwin. “We need to make sure that those who volunteer their time to serve have affordable housing in their community. For someone who wants to be a volunteer firefighter, or for someone who is currently. This bipartisan legislation would make owning a home more affordable and help with volunteer firefighter recruitment and retention.”

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