July 16, 2013
Hanna calls for firefighter tax credit
Congressman introduces proposal for $1,000 credit at Homer fire station
HOMER — Rep. Richard Hanna unveiled a bill to provide volunteer firefighters and emergency medical providers with a $1,000 income tax credit Monday at the Homer Fire Station.
But no companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate and Hanna was not confident that the bill will ever be law.
Hanna noted that the bill was introduced in 2011 by former Rep. Maurice Hinchey and Sen. Charles Schumer and failed.
“No, I’m not (confident),” said Hanna. “It’s been out there, but energy put behind it makes a big difference.”
Hanna estimated that there are 750,000 volunteer emergency service providers in the country. An existing state tax credit provides volunteer firefighters and volunteer ambulance workers with $200 toward their income taxes.
Hanna said the proposed tax credit is designed to help fire departments and other emergency services recruit volunteers and offset their personal expenses responding to an emergency, such as the cost of fuel.
“The biggest cost that most of them have is the fuel,” said Fire Chief Mahlon Irish, noting that the village of Homer provides a gas stipend, which does not cover the entire cost.
Over the past few years the Homer Fire Department has attracted four to six firefighters a year, Irish said.
But older firefighters are leaving at a greater pace than younger members are coming in, said firefighter Chad Wakula, 40.
There are people who want to volunteer, but cannot take the 150 hours in training it takes to become a certified firefighter, said Irish, 57. Some do volunteer without as much training, but can only provide on-scene support and cannot enter a burning building, he said.
Mike Hoffman, a 42-year-veteran of the Homer Fire Department, said more people joined the fire department when he started because less training was required than today.
“It was on-the-job training, basically,” said Hoffman, fire company treasurer. “It’s unbelievably different.”
But Hoffman had no doubt that the additional training saves lives.
Not being able to leave work to fight a fire is another inhibitor to joining.
“It was easier for individuals to get out of work in the daytime,” said Hoffman, 61, remembering that when he started, the post master and workers from the local grocery store and meat market would run to the fire station in the middle of the day for a fire.
Jay Riley, 23, has spent 500 hours in training as a Homer firefighter and has found it a challenge to balance his volunteer firefighting with his day job with TLC Emergency Medical Services and his social life.
“It is a big time commitment,” Riley said.
Riley said he is not allowed to leave work to fight a fire, but often ends up on the scene with a standby ambulance anyway.
Riley said the tax credit would not give him any more incentive to do what he loves.
“But I can see it helping in the future to get younger members to join,” Riley said.
Darrin Vieou, 38, felt the same.
“Do I care how much I spend in gas?,” Riley said. “No, because I’m helping my community.”
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