Bill hopes to attract firefighters amid aging volunteer population

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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV)--- A new bill is hoping to help communities keep and attract volunteer firefighters and emergency medical staff.

Tuesday, Senators Patrick Testin (R-Stevens Point) and Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) joined Representatives Treig Pronschinske (R-Mondovi) and Jeff Mursau (R-Crivitz) to introduced the B.R.A.V.E. Act - which stands for Beginning Retention, and Attraction for Volunteer Emergency personnel.

The proposal creates three refundable tax credits aimed at attracting and retaining volunteer firefighters and emergency medical personnel.

"The first credit is for retention and requires 40 hours of service or attending 50% of all department calls to be eligible for either $300 or $600 credit based on years of service," explained Rep. Trieg Pronschinske.

"The second credit is for training. Twenty dollars an hour up to 25 hours. This credit can only be attained if the first credit requirements are also met. The third arm of this initiative is credit up to $400 for combination of unreimbursed mileage and equipment," Pronschinske said.

Sen. Testin said there are 863 fire departments here in Wisconsin. Seven-hundred-and-one of those fire departments rely solely on volunteers, and another 100 of those rely on either part time or partial volunteers to fund their operations.

"Now, unfortunately, volunteerism is down.... for a number of different reasons. We have seen a decline in population in rural communities, we have seen increased training requirements that enter the profession. People change more jobs more often and they move more often. So to maintain membership in a volunteer community volunteer organization for the long term has become more difficult," Testin said.

He also said the decline in younger volunteers means that the average age of volunteer firefighters has increased. In 2006, the average age of a volunteer firefighter was 50 years old. Today, it is now approaching 60.

"And it could not come at the worst possible time when in that same time frame call times have tripled," Testin explained.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, nearly 93-percent of Wisconsin's fire departments are either entirely volunteer or mostly volunteer. The bill is currently circulating the state capitol for co-sponsorship.

The legislators said the bill is a proactive step for the services to remain viable in the state of Wisconsin.