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Schumer: Shortage Of Volunteer Firefighters On Long Island Looms - Unveils New Plan To Boost Recruitment

Nearly 3 Million Residents of Nassau and Suffolk Counties Rely on Nearly All Volunteer Fire Fighting Force-Potential For Fire Fighter Deficit Leaves Long Islanders Unprotected
Senator Stands with Local Firefighters, Announce New Proposal That Would Give $1,000 Tax Credit to Volunteer Firefighters and EMS
Recruitment and Retention of Volunteer Firefighters Problem for Nassau and Suffo

As a shortage a volunteer fire fighters threatens departments in Nassau and Suffolk County who rely on a nearly all volunteer fire fighting force, US Senator Charles E. Schumer today unveiled a new proposal to support volunteer firefighters and emergency medical support (EMS) providers on Long Island. Standing with volunteer firefighters who shared their recruitment struggles, Schumer announced his legislation, the Supporting Emergency Responders Volunteer Efforts (SERVE) Act, which offers a $1,000 tax credit for active members of volunteer firefighting and EMS organizations. Schumer will specifically address the retention problems that are plaguing Long Island. Enrollment of volunteer firefighters has dropped 28 percent statewide over the last ten years, leaving many departments thinly staffed.

"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. Departments across Long Island and across the country are at risk of 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 Nassau and Suffolk County firefighters who shared their personal stories of service and discuss the importance of offering incentives to get people to come into the voluntary fire and emergency services. The tax credit would provide a $1,000 tax credit 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 sacrifices they voluntarily make each day.

Many communities around New York State rely on volunteer firefighters and EMS providers for muchneeded public services, especially Nassau and Suffolk counties where the firefighting force is nearly all volunteer. Fire departments are finding it harder and harder to find people to fill the slots because middleclass 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.

On Long Island, both Nassau and Suffolk Counties report about 10,000 volunteer firefighters respectively. After 9/11, both Nassau and Suffolk county firehouses saw a spike in volunteerism as the tragedy touched every community on the Island and many people viewed firefighting as a way to give back. Although they report more volunteers today than they had ten years ago, both counties report the numbers of volunteers have plateaued. But, between 2003 and 2004 there were 4000 more ambulance calls and 3000 more fire calls on the Island.

"We can not have a situation where the number of calls keeps going up and the number of responders is staying the same, or worse, declining," said Schumer

In addition to the numbers of new volunteers leveling off, another problem both counties face is retention of current volunteers. Many younger people who train to be firefighters or EMTs leave the area for college and do not return due to rising property costs. There are more single parents which make it harder to find extra time for volunteering. And now there are more twoincome families than before, leaving very little extra time for volunteering.

However, enrollment problems have reached a crisis stage in many areas of New York State. According to the Firemen'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.

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, firefighters are often on the front lines of the War on Terror, and essential to our homeland security. Moreover, every single day volunteer firefighters are relied on 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 SchumerHinchey bill (S. 625, H.R. 934) 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 prorated amount. A refundable tax credit means that, if the credit exceeds their federal tax liability, they would receive the remainder as a tax refund.

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.