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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: April 4, 2005

Schumer: Central New York Faces Severe Shortage Of Volunteer Firefighters – Senator Unveils New Plan To Boost Recruitment

Schumer Stands with Local Firefighters And Announces New Schumer-Hinchey Proposal That Would Give $1,000 Tax Credit to Volunteer Firefighters Recruitment and Retention of Volunteer Firefighters Huge Problem for Central New York; Onondaga County Enrollment Has Dropped 35 Percent Since 1995 Schumer: Volunteer Firefighters Are True American Heroes and Deserve Recognition

US Senator Charles E. Schumer today unveiled a new proposal to support volunteer firefighters and emergency medical service (EMS) providers in Central New York. Joined by volunteer firefighters who shared their recruitment struggles, Schumer announced his legislation, the Supporting Emergency Responders Volunteer Efforts (SERVE) Act to offer a $1,000 tax credit for active members of volunteer firefighting and EMS organizations. Schumer specifically addressed the recruitment and retention problems that are plaguing Onondaga County.

"New York’s firefighters serve on the front lines of the War on Terror everyday,” Schumer said. “We must do everything we can to stand by them and give them the support they need to protect us and keep our communities safe. Areas across the Central New York and across the country are suffering from severe staffing shortages, and we must act immediately. I can think of no better way to show our gratitude for their sacrifice and address this crisis than by offering a $1,000 tax credit to each of these heroes.”

Schumer was joined by Onondaga County firefighters who shared their personal stories of service and discussed the importance of offering incentives to get people to join the volunteer fire and emergency services. Schumer’s tax credit, which is being sponsored by Congressman Maurice Hinchey in the US House of Representatives, would provide a $1,000 tax cut that would serve as an important recruitment tool for local groups to boost enrollment numbers. Most importantly, it is a way for the federal government to express the country's enormous gratitude for the daily sacrifices they make.

Many communities around New York State rely on volunteer firefighters and EMS providers for much-needed public services, but it is getting harder and harder to find people to fill the slots because middle-class families have increasing demands on their time, or financial concerns that preclude their participation. The SERVE Act is designed to offer an incentive for people to get involved in their communities in this vitally important way.

However, enrollment problems have reached a crisis stage in many areas of New York State. According to the Fireman’s Association of the State of New York (FASNY), fewer young people are joining the ranks. Many departments are having a hard time filling crews, especially during the day when most people are working. According to FASNY, enrollment of volunteer firefighters has dropped statewide 28 percent over the last ten years, leaving many departments thinly staffed. If this trend were to continue, many municipalities could find themselves without adequate fire protection in the near future. Onondaga County enrollment has plummeted 35 percent since 1995, leaving many nearby fire companies without adequate staff.

While many local governments understand the need for a recruitment initiative, most simply do not have the resources to implement one. At the same time, our firefighters are often on the front lines of the War on Terror, and essential to our homeland security. Moreover, every single day we rely on volunteer firefighters to save residential and commercial property, and to clean up accidents and reopen our highways, all of which protects the economic prosperity of many of our communities.

If enacted, the Schumer-Hinchey bill (S. 625) would provide a $1,000 federal tax credit to individuals who are active members of volunteer fire departments and emergency service crews to reward these brave men and women who risk their lives for little or no compensation. The SERVE Act would promote staffing at these emergency organizations to maintain the proper services needed to protect New York’s communities.

Under the SERVE Act, any taxpayer who is a volunteer firefighter or EMS worker for the full year is entitled to a refundable federal tax credit of $1,000; if they work for part of the year, they are entitled to a pro-rated amount. A refundable tax credit means that, if the credit exceeds their federal tax liability, they would receive the remainder as a tax refund.

“A tax credit for volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel will serve as an important recruitment tool for local companies that often have a difficult time getting people to sign up for volunteer service," said Hinchey, who has introduced the Supporting Emergency Responders Volunteer Efforts Act in the House since 2002. “By providing a $1,000 tax credit that will make paying the bills easier, we will help encourage more community members to become volunteer firefighters and EMS providers. This $1,000 tax credit will also serve as a small token of our enormous appreciation for the risks our local firefighters and EMS providers take each day to protect us and our families. I am very appreciative of Senator Schumer's efforts to advance my legislation in the Senate and look forward to working with him.”

Schumer has long been an advocate for firefighters. In October 2000, Congress enacted the Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program (FIRE) Act to make federal grants available to fire departments to provide much needed firefighting equipment, training and fire prevention education programs. Last October, Congress reauthorized the legislation thru FY2009. Between FY2001 and FY2003 - New York State received $53.026 million in FIRE grant funds - the third highest level in the country behind CA and PA.

According to the National Fire Protection Association and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which promulgated standards for the minimum number of fire fighters needed to safely and effectively respond to emergencies, an estimated 2/3 of all jurisdictions do not currently meet their safe staffing levels. In response to this concern, Congress enacted the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response Firefighters (SAFER) Act to create a federal grant program to address the need of adequate staffing within the fire service. The goal of the SAFER Act is to hire up to 75,000 new firefighters over a seven year period.

Schumer supports full funding of both the FIRE Act at $950 million and $1 billion for the SAFER Act in FY06. He cosponsored Senator Dodd's amendment to the Budget Resolution, which would have fully funded both the FIRE and SAFER Acts.

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