Springfield — Fire officials and legislators banded together at the Capitol today to commend the heroic efforts of volunteer firefighters in response to the Dust Storm and called for the inclusion of an income tax credit into the state budget, to help alleviate the critical shortage of volunteer firefighters in Illinois.
Modeled after legislation passed in New York, the proposal would provide a $500 state income tax credit for volunteer firefighters, who earn less than $10,000 in stipends for their service to the fire department.
“There is a public safety crisis going on throughout the state, with the number of emergency calls to fire departments tripling (the majority of which are for EMS) and the number of volunteer emergency workers plummeting. This reflects a nationwide shortage of volunteers, contributing factors which include: the aging population of volunteers, increased training requirements, and newer policies, which prohibit full-time firefighters from volunteering in their own communities,” explained Illinois Firefighters Association Government Affairs Director Margaret Vaughn.
“Recently, more than 70 vehicles were involved in a major pileup on Interstate 55 in my senate district, with 7 confirmed deaths, and dozens sent to hospitals with injuries,” said Senator Steve McClure (R-Springfield). “This tragedy illustrated the vital importance of our volunteer first responders, who risked their own lives in treacherous circumstances to minimize the loss of life that day. Now we have a chance to help support these brave men and women so they can continue to keep our communities safe.”
“Recent FEMA data shows over 85 % of the Illinois fire departments rely on volunteers and it would be catastrophic without them, which was exemplified by the volunteer emergency response to the dust storm on I-55. The volunteer fire service saves the state billions of dollars which would otherwise have to be made up in property tax revenue and a $500 state income tax credit will provide an incentive for volunteers to continue to serve their communities. Passage of this legislation is long overdue,” said Chief Senate Sponsor Christopher Belt (D-Swansea).
Sen. Belt presented MABAS Division 56 President Kevin Schott with a Senate Recognition Certificate, commending the emergency response expertise and heroic assistance, the members of his Division, provided to the victims of the recent I-55 Dust Storm tragedy.
“I want to thank all the volunteer responders who performed such an amazing task in the most adverse conditions possible last week. The message we want to get out today is two-fold: first there is a dire need for this tax credit to become law and secondly, we want to encourage people to consider becoming a volunteer fire or EMS worker and make a major difference in the lives of their community. Not all departments are totally volunteer, and some compensate per call, while others provide stipends or reimbursement for expenses,” explained Illinois Firefighters Association Legislative Chair & MABAS Division 56 President Kevin Schott.
The Dust Storm Tragedy also impacted Rep. Wayne Rosenthal’s (R-Morrison) district. “Were it not for our dedicated volunteer firefighters, the tragedy on I-55 last week could have been even worse. An income tax credit to help incentivize and provide a little support to volunteer firefighters who willingly put their live at risk to protect their neighbors is the least we can do to recognize their commitment and thank them.”
“This proposed income tax credit is one way we can show our thanks to the thousands of volunteers who step up and leave their jobs and families to fight fires and respond to emergency calls, often when literally no one else is around to do so, said State Representative Lance Yednock (D-Ottawa).
“We have an opportunity to show the volunteer firefighters, who provide the bulk of our protection in the area – and who respond in disasters like the dust storm that impacted I-55, how much we appreciate them with this tax credit. Volunteer units are saving our local municipalities millions of dollars a year, while saving and protecting lives, this is the least we can do to recognize the sacrifice they make for us every day,” said Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville).
“Our brave and dedicated volunteer firefighters donate hundreds of hours each year to protecting our homes, our businesses, and our families,” said State Rep. Terra Costa Howard, D-Glen Ellyn. “With this tax credit, we can demonstrate a portion of our gratitude for their commitment to community service, and we can create a modest incentive to attract new volunteer first responders.”
“We rely on first responders to help during an emergency, protect our communities and keep us safe,” said State Senator Doris Turner (D-Springfield). “Many rural communities rely on volunteer firefighters. Just one week ago our first responders responded to the devastating dust storm that took lives. We can’t thank them enough and we have to prioritize our volunteer firefighters who risk their lives for us.”
“The majority of our state depend on volunteer firefighters to keep them safe and to help when tragedy strikes,” said State Senator Tom Bennett (R-Gibson City). “They risk their lives, without pay, to help others. It’s time that we give something back for the sacrifices that they’ve made for us.”
“Volunteer firefighters put their lives on hold, and sometimes on the line, to keep us safe. They often pay for much of their own training and equipment costs, without any paycheck in return,” said State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville). “While we should be doing more, this tax credit is a small way for the people of their communities to say, ‘thank you’ to these friends and neighbors who step up and serve.”
The content of the language for the tax credit is currently in SB 2253.
Contact: Margaret Vaughn, Government Affairs Director
IL Firefighters Association