SOUTHINGTON — Fire department leaders are considering a boost to the reimbursement rate and tax abatements for volunteer firefighters.
The Board of Fire Commissioners is looking to improve volunteer recruitment and keep the volunteers the town already has. Increasing benefits may do that, according to board chairman Nathan Wilson.
“It’s a great incentive,” he said. “I think it would help.”
A change in state law would allow the town to increase the property tax abatement for volunteer firefighters from a maximum of $1,000 to $2,000. Wilson said there’s support among board members for the change but that it needs approval by the Board of Finance and the Town Council as well.
It’ll be discussed at the fire board meeting scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 19 at Fire Headquarters, 310 N. Main St.
Wilson said Fire Chief Richard Butler will also present a proposal to increase the reimbursement volunteers get per fire call. That item is also on the board’s agenda for discussion.
The town has a combined volunteer and career fire department.
Chris Robertson, a fire board member, supported more benefits for fire volunteers but doubted that alone would greatly change the recruitment situation. The department has lost volunteers in recent years, a nationwide trend that Robertson and other fire leaders have blamed on busier lives and less flexible jobs.
“It has nothing to do with tax abatement, it has nothing to do with pay. It has to do with time,” Robertson said. “A lot of people just don’t have the time.”
He praised the work of volunteer firefighters and said he would like to boost their reimbursement.
“I would like to see it go up. I really would,” Robertson said.
In 2016, the fire board changed the reimbursement rate from an hourly stipend to a per call amount of $7.02. The change was prompted by a complaint to the state Department of Labor that volunteers weren’t making the minimum hourly wage.
The change resulted in less money for volunteer firefighters.