FRANKFORT – In small-town Kentucky, volunteer firefighters are part tradition, part public service. But it is becoming increasingly difficult for cities and counties to find volunteer firefighters in the Commonwealth.
“To become a volunteer firefighter, individuals must dedicate many hours of personal time for training and physical ability testing,” said Rep. Rick G. Nelson, D-Middlesboro. “Most volunteers do not get paid when responding to calls or for the required training. If payment is made, those payments may not cover the expenses of the volunteer.”
Nelson has proposed an individual income tax credit for certain volunteer firefighters to entice individuals to join volunteer fire departments and to partially compensate individuals for the costs associated with being a volunteer firefighter. He said the proposal calls for a credit to be created in January. It would be equal to $1,000 for each active certified volunteer firefighter.
An active certified volunteer firefighter is defined as a firefighter who volunteers for a qualified fire department; is active with a qualified fire department for the entire taxable year for which the tax credit is claimed; and appears on the list of certified volunteer firefighter provided by the Commission on Fire Protection Personnel Standards and Education.
Rep. Nelson has always supported firefighters. In 2001, he was a cosponsor of House Bill 101, which says a volunteer firefighter could not be fired over being called away to fulfill firefighter duties.
Jim Pohlman, president of the Kentucky Firefighters Association and the Chief of the Alexandria Fire District, said the legislation would be helpful to volunteer firefighters and departments across the state.
“I think it’s a great start,” Pohlman said. “Anything we do would be a plus.”
Nelson said he intends to pre-file his legislation this year to be introduced during the 2017 General Assembly.
“The state has more volunteer fire departments than cities,” Nelson said. “Staffing those departments are nearly 18,000 volunteer firefighters. There is no doubt about it; volunteer fire departments are a major provider of services in rural Kentucky and it is time the legislature acts to preserve these institutions.”