When Mahlon Irish became a Homer volunteer firefighter in 1974, it was common for 60 people to head out to a fire. Now, it can be difficult to get the 12 firefighters national standards call for to a working blaze. The decline in the number of volunteers through the years is blamed on many things -- from extensive training required to changing family dynamics. But the expense of being a volunteer is also an issue, says Irish, using the cost of gasoline as an example.
"I have to drive my vehicle, we have fire police that drive their vehicles, we may be out there for hours with our vehicle running," Irish said. "Fuel can be expensive, so anyway that they can give us any little subsidy would be good."
That's why Utica-area Cong. Richard Hanna recently introduced the Supporting Emergency Responders Volunteer Efforts Act in Congress, pushing for federal tax breaks that could boost the number of volunteer firefighters.
Hanna says his proposal would give a $1,000 tax credit to volunteers if they are a certified member of a volunteer or EMS organization. Hanna says he has other sponsors signed on, and says the recent raft of natural disasters across the country makes these volunteers more valuable than ever.
"It's an important thing right now, especially when you look at the frequency of these big storms we've had. And every fire department, every EMS, they're all out running pumps and working day and night to help their neighbors and their friends. It's one thing to say thanks when they come and go from our house. It's quite another thing to help them financially," said the congressman.