Senate Finance Committee Passes Legislation Introduced by Senator Collins to Support Volunteer First Responders

The legislation will help communities recruit, retain volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel

Volunteer firefighters donate services worth approximately $18,000 per year to their departments

Washington, D.C. — The U.S. Senate Finance Committee unanimously passed the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act that includes a provision in the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act sponsored by U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY). The language will enhance communities’ ability to recruit and retain volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel.

“Volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel provide a vital service to municipalities across Maine and the country,” Senator Collins said. “Unfortunately, the number of volunteer first responders has declined in recent years, which could jeopardize public safety. Our provision that was included in the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act would protect cost-effective incentives that support the brave men and women who volunteer to protect their communities.”

Emergency services agencies are finding it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain new volunteers. Over the past six years, the number of volunteer firefighters in the United States has declined by approximately 41,000. In addition, more than 30 percent of firefighters are 50 years of age or older, up from 18 percent in 2000.

Senators Collins and Schumer’s provision that was included in the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act will permit communities to provide volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel with up to $600 per year of property tax reductions or recruitment and retention incentives without those benefits being subject to federal income tax or withholding. The measure will allow communities to provide volunteers with minor benefits without having to fear being audited by the IRS.

"On behalf of the national volunteer fire council, I'd like to thank Senator Collins for her work on this important legislation to help local fire and EMS agencies recruit and retain volunteer personnel," said Kevin D. Quinn, Chairman of the National Volunteer Fire Council. “On average a volunteer firefighter in the United States donates services worth more than $18,000 to the community that he or she serves. 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."

“The IAFC thanks Senator Collins and Senator Schumer for their long-standing support of volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel,” said Fire Chief John Sinclair, President and Chairman of the Board of the International Association of Fire Chiefs. “The legislation would provide an important tool for volunteer fire departments looking to build strong recruitment and retention programs. The IAFC encourages Congress to pass this common sense, bipartisan legislation as soon as possible.”

“We applaud the Senate Finance Committee for including S. 609, the Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Act, in the recent bi-partisan mark-up of the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act of 2016,” said Bill Webb, Executive Director of the Congressional Fire Services Institute. “We especially appreciate the continued support of Senator Charles Schumer and Senator Susan Collins, the sponsors of S. 609, for their continued commitment to our nation’s first responders.”