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Larson, Reichert Introduce Bill to Support Volunteer Firefighters and EMS Personnel

June 12, 2015
Press Release

Washington – This week Rep. John B. Larson (D-CT) and Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA) introduced the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act of 2015 (VRIPA), a bipartisan bill that would provide a tax emption on the benefits volunteer firefighters and emergency medical services (EMS) personnel receive from their communities. Larson authored a similar bill that was signed into law in 2007, but the exemption expired in 2010. Currently, volunteers must pay federal income tax on these modest incentives. VRIPA would allow volunteer first responders to exempt from federal taxation any property tax reductions and up to $600 per year in other benefits. 

“These brave men and women put their lives on the line to protect and save others,” said Larson. “They take these risks and volunteer on behalf of their neighbors, yet are forced to pay federal taxes on the small tokens of gratitude their communities bestow in return This commonsense, bipartisan legislation would ease the burden placed upon our volunteer first responders who already sacrifice so much.”

Reichert said, “As a former law enforcement officer myself, I know the unique challenges that firefighters and EMS personnel face. In fact, I wouldn’t be here today if it hadn’t been for the assistance of a first aid responder many years ago. The vast majority of communities across the nation rely on volunteer fire and EMS services and without them would not be able to confront the problems that come their way.  That is why it is so important we provide this needed tax relief to the volunteers that put their lives on the line every day in services to their communities and help keep our citizens safe.”

“On behalf of the National Volunteer Fire Council (NVFC) I’d like to thank Representatives Larson and Reichert for introducing this critical legislation to help local volunteer emergency services agencies recruit and retain personnel,” said NVFC Chairman Kevin D. Quinn. “On average, a volunteer firefighter in the United States donates services worth more than $18,000 annually to the communities that they serve. Clarifying that minor incentives that volunteers receive as a reward for their service are not taxable will give communities flexibility to provide benefits without having to worry about being audited by the IRS.”

“Volunteer first responders provide the highest standard of critical safety services and save communities nationwide millions of dollars in the process,” said Matthew J. DeTemple, President of the National Association of Towns and Townships and Executive Director, Ohio Township Association. “We need to do everything we can to support them and encourage their efforts. Requiring volunteers to pay taxes for the modest benefits they receive is misguided. This bill, VRIPA, corrects this transgression.” 

“Many volunteer fire departments are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain firefighters,” added Bill Webb, executive director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute.  “Communities throughout the country have been providing modest rewards to show volunteer firefighters their service is valued.  By exempting from federal taxation these incentives, the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act will greatly assist local fire departments in recruiting and retaining future generations of volunteer firefighters.  I applaud Congressman Larson and Congressman Reichert for introducing this important piece of legislation.”

“Volunteer and combination fire departments face difficult challenges in recruiting and retaining firefighters and EMS personnel,” said Fire Chief G. Keith Bryant, President of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. If enacted this provision will protect the nominal incentives volunteers receive from being taxed and losing their incentivizing power.

In the past five years, the number of volunteer firefighters in the United States has declined by nearly 41,000 while the number of volunteers over the age of 50 has steadily increased. To boost recruitment and retention, many volunteer fire and EMS agencies provide minor financial and non-monetary incentives, including but not limited to uniforms, annual award ceremonies, and reduced property taxes

The services donated by volunteer first responders are estimated to be worth approximately $140 billion annually. Without these services, many communities would be unable to provide firefighting and emergency medical services.