Denver, CO, USA — Colorado’s nearly 10,000 volunteer firefighters could receive a $250 tax rebate to help defray the costs of helping their communities under a proposal set to be introduced at the Capitol in the next couple weeks.
Rep. Rob Witwer (R-Evergreen) says the measure is designed to help those who willingly help their neighbors.
“I think most people don’t realize it actually costs a fair amount of money to be a volunteer firefighter in this state,” said Witwer. “When people have to pay out of their own pocket to serve their communities, especially in a life-safety function, that’s the kind of tax credit or incentive that really makes an awful lot of sense.”
Volunteer firefighters like Scott Martin in Evergreen say the costs can add up. Martin and many others take their own cars to accident scenes or fires, increasing their response time, but also requiring numerous gas tank fill-ups, multiple oil changes and new brakes and tires each year. Martin said Evergreen volunteers just spent $200 on a new wildland fire backpack as well as purchasing a new light for his helmet and tracks for his boots to walk on ice.
“Nobody comes into the job of volunteer firefighter to get paid for it,” Martin said. “But sometimes in the middle of the night, at three in the morning, when you’re jumping out of bed to help some guy who’s drunk and crashed his car, (you want) to feel like you’re not going to get penalized for it. The tax rebate would help a lot.”
There are more than 9,500 volunteer firefighters in Colorado, representing nearly 65 percent of all firefighters in the state. They are usually the first line of defense at the state’s largest fires and can make the difference between a 50,000-acre fire and one that gets no coverage. Some of the gear they end up using they have paid for out of their own pockets.
“If you see stuff that makes your job a little bit safer, sometimes you’ve got to toss out the extra money to get it,” Martin said. “It’s a little frustrating. You’re putting out a lot of money out of your own pocket to pay to serve your own department, your own district.”
Representative Witwer says he expects to hear the criticism from those calling this a special interest tax break. The measure could cost the state of Colorado roughly $2.5 million to implement at a time when lawmakers are still trying to replace cuts made during Colorado’s recent budget crisis.
“It’s such a small amount of give back to those people who have given so much to the state,” said Witwer. “There’s an invisible line item in the state budget. It’s the money we don’t have to pay because people are willing to volunteer and serve their community as first responders.”
State lawmakers return to work for their 2007 annual session on January 10.