Federal Legislation Eyed to Help Retain Volunteers

This is National Volunteer Week, and efforts to recruit responders continues.

While recruitment and retention remain an ongoing challenge in volunteer fire and EMS, there are efforts underway to ease some of the burdens.

There are two pieces of legislation currently pending that would impact volunteer EMS providers, says Dave Finger, director of government relations for the National Volunteer Fire Council. The NVFC represents the nation's volunteer fire, rescue and EMS personnel.

Those bills are:

Volunteer Emergency Services Recruitment and Retention Act (H.R. 1009/S. 506)

This bill, also known as VESRRA, would simplify how Length of Service Award Programs (LOSAPs) are taxed. LOSAPs are retirement accounts for volunteer responders and are among the most popular financial incentives, according to the NVFC.

“Simply put, VESRRA eliminates burdensome and confusing IRS requirements that make it unnecessarily difficult for departments to administer plans and for volunteer emergency personnel to receive benefits,” the agency’s handout explains.

Volunteer Responder Incentive Protection Reauthorization Act (H.R. 3747/S. 501)

Known as VRIPRA, this bill would allow communities to provide volunteer firefighters and EMS personnel with property tax reductions and/or up to $600 per year of recruitment and retention incentives without those benefits being subject to federal income tax and withholding. The original VRIPA was enacted in 2007 but expired at the end of 2010, according to NVFC.

Both bills have been introduced, but advocates hope to get them attached to a larger tax bill in order to get them passed.

“Those are the two main recruitment and retention bills the NVFC is pursuing at the moment,” Finger says. “They just get the federal government out of the way of these small communities.”

Utilizing the Week of April 6–12

National Volunteer Week was established by President Richard Nixon in 1974, and every sitting U.S. president since has issued a proclamation during National Volunteer Week. The event has become a nationwide effort foster a culture of service and to recognize volunteers for their efforts.

Fire and EMS agencies can use this time to showcase the work of their volunteers and recruit new members to their department, the NVFC suggests.

“Recognize the achievements of your department’s volunteers and let them know how much they are appreciated,” the organization advises. “You can nominate volunteers for a department, local, state, or national award, such as the President’s Volunteer Service Awards

Also use this event to celebrate volunteerism and let your community know about volunteer opportunities in your department. Consider hosting an open house, giving presentations to community groups, exhibiting at a local event, or conducting a local media campaign to help get the word out. The NVFC thanks all volunteers who dedicate their time to protecting their communities.”

Volunteer Fire/EMS Service Facts

The NVFC provides the following information:

  • The number of volunteer responders in the U.S. has declined by 13% since 1984. Major factors contributing to the decline include:
  1. Increased time demands due to increased training requirements, increasing call volumes, and a wider variety of services expected of fire departments.
  2. Less time available for individuals to volunteer due to factors such as the proliferation of two-income families and longer commuting distances to work.
  3. Change in attitudes among the public such as less focus on volunteering, loss of community pride or feeling that one should give back, employers less willing to let employees off to run calls, etc. (NVFC, Retention & Recruitment in the Volunteer Emergency Services: Challenges and Solutions
  • Fire department call volume has nearly tripled in the last 25 years, mainly due to a sharp increase in the number of EMS calls and false alarms. (NFPA, Fire Loss in the United States 2012)
  • The National Volunteer Fire Council has many programs to address recruitment and retention, including Fire Corps, 1-800-FIRE-LINE, National Junior Firefighter Program, and guides and resources.
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